Understanding ACH Fees: Comparing ACH Cost to Other Payment Methods

By Ashley Kilroy · May 30, 2024 · 10 minute read

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Understanding ACH Fees: Comparing ACH Cost to Other Payment Methods

ACH payments (or ACH transactions or transfers) move funds between financial institutions electronically, eliminating the need for cash, paper checks, and credit card networks. As with most banking transactions, they can involve a range of costs, which are typically competitive with other payment methods.

The exact amount you end up paying for an ACH transaction will depend on multiple factors, such as the way you use the ACH network and the size of your payments. In many cases, these fees will apply if you are a business owner vs. a consumer. Read on to learn more about how ACH pricing works and compares to other payment methods.

What Is an ACH Transfer?

First things first: ACH stands for Automated Clearing House, the network that powers electronic financial transactions. It’s a hub that includes around 10,000 financial institutions and can support payment processing, such as direct payments, electronic checks (eChecks), electronic funds transfers (EFTs), direct debits, and direct deposits. When considering payment apps, like PayPal and Venmo, know that ACH powers those as well.

ACH transfers work similarly to other payment methods. Take your monthly internet bill, for example. If you signed up for autopay, you had to provide your checking account details. You also needed to agree to a scheduled payment.

After the sign-up, your internet provider requests funds from your bank to pay for the cost. From there, your bank processes the ACH transaction as long as you have enough funds. (It’s worth mentioning that ACH payments are quite secure, but there is fraud out there. ACH Positive Pay offers one way to protect yourself if you are concerned about scammers.)

ACH transfers require an initial setup. Following that, you can make bank-to-bank payments using the ACH network. These payments generally fall into two categories: ACH credit and ACH debit. Either way, you may wonder how long an ACH transfer takes. They usually clear within a few business days and for a relatively low cost.

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Typical ACH Payment Fees

As a consumer, you may not pay for ACH processing, though some providers may try to pass along a service charge. In some cases, using ACH may even earn you a discount. For instance, if you automate a home loan payment for a certain date every month, you might be rewarded with a discount on your rate.

However, as a business, you will likely have to spend a bit to conduct ACH business. The usual ACH transfer cost is $0.26 and $0.50, typically landing at $0.40. This means that ACH payments are one of the more affordable options for businesses, although prices may vary depending on the provider you choose to process your payments. That provider is usually known as a third-party payment processor (TPPP).

Here are some standard ACH fees you should be on the lookout for if you accept these payments.

Account Fee

The ACH account fee covers a broad array of costs. It essentially pays for the services needed to manage a payment processing account. These include recording a monthly statement, compliance costs, system maintenance, and transaction monitoring. Generally, your service provider or processor will collect this fee.

ACH Processing Fees

The ACH processing fee covers the expense to send an ACH payment to the recipient’s bank account after going through the Automated Clearing House network. ACH processing fees break up into three categories: debit, credit, and discount, which you’ll now learn about individually.

Debit Fee

The debit fee pays for a customer to make an ACH debit payment to a business. As mentioned above, this ACH debit fee typically costs between $0.20 and $1.50. The charge depends on the risk of the transaction and the type of business.

Credit Fee

ACH credits come into play when a business makes a payment to a third party, vendor, or employee. It’s similar to a debit fee in terms of cost, meaning between $0.20 to $1.50, and it pays for the transaction to be sent through the ACH network.

Higher-risk businesses (which may cluster in certain fields, from financial and travel services, to auctions and tobacco-based businesses) may face an additional charge as well. This can bring the fee to around 0.5% to 1.5% of the payment. In part, this reflects the fact that ACH credit payments tend to be worth a higher dollar amount than ACH debit transactions. As a result, an ACH credit payment is a greater risk for the merchant services provider.

Discount Fee

The name “discount fee” may be misleading for people just learning about ACH charges. It has no connection to discounted prices. Instead, it’s a fee that applies to certain high-risk ACH transactions based on a percentage. With it, payment processors can increase the cost of the service and lessen the risk of the payment.

Other ACH Fees

There are other fees you should know about with ACHs. Because when it comes to paying for financial services, no surprises is often the best policy.

Setup Fee

In some cases, your payment processor may charge you for setup. This one-time fee can be waived sometimes, though; it’s worth inquiring. You’re most likely to be able to avoid the fee if ACH processing comes as an add-on service to another arrangement you’ve made. Alternatively, you can reduce costs by working with a business that does not collect this setup charge.

Monthly Fee

Those who use ACH may also face a unique monthly fee along with processing charges. However, some may be able to pay both fees wrapped into the monthly fee. Usually, this fee costs anywhere from $5 to $30.

Monthly Minimum Fee

This may sound like the monthly fee we just described above, but there may indeed be a monthly minimum fee as well. This is a minimum processing charge that could be assessed in addition to your regular monthly charge. Or it might replace that monthly fee.

Batch Fee

ACH files can contain one or more groupings, called batches. Batches contain one or multiple transactions, and they are sorted based on certain clusters of data. When your ACH transfers are batched in this way, you are charged a batch fee. It’s assessed per each batch processed and is typically under a dollar per batch.

ACH Return Fee

Returning an ACH transfer is possible. However, it usually comes with an ACH return fee that costs between $2 to $5 per transaction.

ACH Chargeback Fee

Customers use chargebacks to dispute what they believe are erroneous payments. This process comes with a chargeback fee, and it’s typically higher than fees for ACH returns. The ACH chargeback fee tends to cost between $5 and $25.

High Ticket Surcharge

The original intention for ACH fees was to apply them to low-ticket (that is, not too pricey) purchases. As a result, there’s an additional charge added for high-ticket transactions. You’ll find that payment processors likely charge a surcharge on purchases over $5,000.

Expedited Processing Fee

You may need expedited processing for an ACH transfer. Depending on the payment processor, this service can come with an additional charge.

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Comparing ACH Fees to Other Payment Methods

When it comes to electronic transactions, you may find that different techniques can sound quite similar. However, processes vary, and so too can fees. Here’s what you need to know about the fees associated with other payment methods.

ACH vs Wire Transfer

Wire transfers are transactions between two financial institutions where each is responsible for verification. In a wire transfer, a bank sends money from one account into another. This process can take little or virtually no time when it occurs within the same bank. However, if the money must transfer between distant or international banks, it can take a bit longer, but it is often viewed as one of the quickest ways to make a payment.

While this can be a fast method, it’s also costly, often averaging between $25 to $45 when sending money and around $15 when you receive funds in this way. As a result, wire transfers may be best for one-time, large payments.

ACH vs Paper Checks

Paper checks are the traditional route for payment processing and may work well if you want to transfer money between banks in a way that avoids electronic transactions. But the overall cost can vary depending on the business’s size, where the checking account is located, and timing.

It’s not unheard of for banks or financial institutions to offer free checking accounts to small businesses. They may even throw in checks at no additional cost. These two selling points, along with low monthly fees, can make paper checks an incredibly cheap financial method.

However, experiences vary. The financial institution may offer a free checking account, but only if the business maintains a certain minimum balance. Not only that, but monthly fees and the time spent filling out or processing checks can be costly. According to NACHA, sending money via a check results in a cost between $2 and $4 per transaction.

ACH vs Credit Card and Debit Cards

Credit cards are a standard payment method, particularly for businesses collecting online payments. All the cardholder has to do is use their card to purchase the business’ goods or services. When they do, the credit card network verifies that the payer can indeed afford to do so. This is why credit card transactions are considered “guaranteed funds” payments. ACH doesn’t do this vetting during processing, which means transactions can be rejected. Thus, they may result in a penalty fee. Debit cards are another convenient way to pay. A person swipes or taps their card to pay, and funds are automatically deducted from their account.

ACH processing is relatively slow compared to credit card processing. But ACH pricing is lower than credit card and debit fees.

Recommended: What Is a Credit Card and How Does it Work?

ACH vs Online Invoice with Pay Link

If a vendor includes an easy, clickable payment link in an online invoice to customers, that convenience can trigger fees. In terms of processing, this is likely to cost up to 3.3% of the transaction’s total, and you may also pay a 15- to 30-cent fee for each transaction.

ACH vs PayPal

Now, let’s consider how processing via PayPal stacks up. In the U.S., PayPal fees range from 1.9% to 3.49%, depending on whether the transaction was in-store or online, and then there’s an additional fee per transaction, ranging from $0.09 to $0.49. International transactions will be assessed an additional fee. If you use a QR code with your PayPal transactions, you can lower the cost somewhat.

ACH vs Apple Pay Fees

Apple doesn’t assess a fee from merchants to accept and use Apple Pay for payments, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting a freebie. You will have to pay your processing partner at the standard rates for credit- and debit-card transactions.

The Takeaway

Businesses and individuals alike rely on ACH transfers to process transactions. And there’s a reason for it: These digital payments are quick, convenient, and accessible. ACH transfers also have the benefit of being a lower-cost option compared to methods like wiring funds and some other common techniques. Finding the right way to pay bills and collect payments is a personal decision, with many variables. Money matters, of course, but there may be other benefits to consider as well.

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Do ACH payments have fees?

Yes, ACH payments come with fees. However, these are generally the lowest fees versus any other payment processing option.

Why do banks charge ACH fees?

Banks charge ACH fees to cover the processing service and potential costs, like penalty fees.

How do you avoid ACH fees?

Since ACH fees vary, the best way to avoid them is through research. Reading terms ahead of time can help you find whether a provider is the right option for you. In general, accessing ACH through a third-party can drastically increase the number of fees.

Do US banks charge for ACH transfers?

As a customer, ACH transfers are typically free, and your bank doesn’t collect a fee. As a business conducting ACH transactions, however, you might be charged a fee for an occasional ACH transaction. It’s more likely, however, that if you are completing these transactions regularly that you will work with and pay a third-party payment processing company rather than your bank.

What is ACH on my bank statement?

ACH stands for Automated Clearing House. It is a network used to transfer funds between bank accounts around the United States. When you see it on your bank statement, you know that payment was made electronically through the ACH network.

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