The Basics of an ACH Hold

By Timothy Moore · February 27, 2024 · 7 minute read

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The Basics of an ACH Hold

If you ever see the phrase “ACH hold” when checking on your bank account, it can be helpful to know that this means funds are on hold, anticipating a completed electronic transfer.

ACH, which is short for Automated Clearing House, is a popular kind of ETF (electronic fund transfer). Both businesses and individuals may use this method to move money between bank accounts. When you grant a business or government the right to conduct an ACH debit (which is the electronic removal of funds from your bank account), you may see those words “ACH hold” on funds in your account, telling you that verification is taking place.

This may cause you to wonder if your bank account and financial affairs are in good shape.

Key Points

•   ACH holds refer to funds being placed on hold in anticipation of a completed electronic transfer.

•   ACH stands for Automated Clearing House, a network used for electronic fund transfers.

•   Banks put ACH holds on accounts to verify funds availability before approving transactions.

•   ACH holds can last up to 24 to 48 hours and are typically processed in batches throughout the day.

•   If an ACH hold doesn’t clear within a few days, contacting the bank is necessary to resolve the issue.

Understanding Automated Clearing House

ACH stands for Automated Clearing House, a U.S.-based network governed by Nacha (National Automated Clearing House Association). The system enables businesses and individuals to electronically debit (take money from) or credit (put money into) accounts.

ACH credit transfers are quite common today. For instance:

•   Examples of a company or government agency putting funds into an individual’s or company’s account include direct deposit payments from an employer to an employee, social security benefits, and tax refunds.

•   As an individual, you likely utilize ACH debit as well. If you have connected your online bank account to a peer-to-peer or P2P payment app like PayPal, Venmo, or Cash App and you utilize standard transfers, you are likely using ACH debit when you pay friends and family.

•   You may also use ACH when you enable autopay for bills each month, such as your mortgage, rent, or utilities. When you sign up for this kind of payment, those companies are using ACH debit to withdraw the necessary funds to cover your monthly payment.

But money does not go directly from one account to another. Before your direct deposit paycheck reaches your bank account — or your automatic payment reaches your landlord or the electric company — it goes through the clearing house, which batches payments multiple times a day. That means ACH payments are not immediate, though they can be same-day.

What Is an ACH Hold?

So what does ACH hold mean? When a company or institution that you have authorized to make a withdrawal from your account submits an ACH debit, your bank will receive and acknowledge the transaction. At that point, the bank might place an ACH hold on your account. Here’s what is happening:

•   While there is a hold on your account for the amount of the ACH debit, you will not be able to use those funds for a purchase.

•   During the ACH hold, the bank is verifying that you have the funds in your account to cover the requested debit.

•   Once confirmed, your bank will deduct the money from your account.

•   If there are not adequate funds for a transaction, it could be rejected.

In such an instance, the ACH hold simply makes the funds you will owe unavailable before they are actually debited from your account.

On the flip side, you may sometimes notice a pending ACH credit in your account. Here’s a bit of detail about what that may represent:

•   If you open your mobile banking app a day before payday, you might see the pending direct deposit, but the funds are not yet available.

•   This means your employer has sent the money through ACH, but your bank has simply placed a hold until it can verify the transaction and push the funds through to your account.

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How Does an ACH Hold Work?

When an ACH hold turns up in your account, here are the steps that are typically going on behind the scenes:

1.    The ACH request is sent to your bank to debit funds from your account.

2.    The bank receives the request and begins work.

3.    The bank puts a hold on the funds.

4.    The bank ensures the funds are available.

5.    The transaction is completed.

Recommended: ACH vs. Check: What Are the Differences?

How Long Does an ACH Hold Last?

There is not a set time that an ACH hold will last. ACH transfers are often processed in batches throughout the day, so if a transfer misses one batch, it likely waits for the next one. For this reason, ACH transfers typically occur in one or two business days.

For this reason, it’s unlikely a hold would last any longer than 24 to 48 hours.

Tracking Your ACH Hold

But what happens if the days are passing and an ACH hold doesn’t clear? This can be a major inconvenience, whether the transaction involved is an incoming paycheck or an outgoing bill payment.

Unfortunately, as the customer, you will not be able to resolve this on your own. You will need to to contact the bank and make an inquiry, giving them the pertinent details. This will likely include your account number, the amount of the ACH, and how long you have seen the hold in your account. If you are able to see any other specifics under a section such as “transaction details,” those can be helpful as well.

Tracking an ACH hold can be a wise move if a couple of days have passed (say, you are on day three) and the funds in question still have not cleared. Usually, by this point, the transfer would either have taken place or been rejected.

Why Do Banks Perform an ACH Hold?

ACH holds allow banks to verify that funds are in place before approving the transaction. For example, say your account has $100 in it, but a bill collector has initiated an ACH debit for $500. It will be in the bank’s best interest to place the hold on your account. Once the bank realizes that your account does not have the funds to complete the transaction, it will likely reject the ACH transfer.

This protects the bank’s assets, but it means you have an unpaid bill. In this example, you may also have to pay late fees in addition to the funds you owe. What’s more, the bank might charge you an ACH return fee. These fees can certainly add up.

It is a good idea to monitor your account closely and set up low-balance alerts. As a best practice, you might want to keep track of scheduled automatic payments via calendar reminders so your account balance is always high enough to cover charges.

Unauthorized ACH Holds

ACH holds can benefit you as well as your bank. For example, if you monitor your checking account closely and notice a pending ACH transaction that you weren’t expecting, you can contact your bank to learn more about the transaction.

If a person or entity is attempting to debit your account without your authorization, this could mean that your banking details have been compromised. Your bank will be able to help you with next steps to protect you from fraud.

Another scenario to consider: The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) advises that you can stop electronic debits via ACH by payday lenders. These payday loans are a way to get an advance on your paycheck. To curtail unauthorized account deductions, you must revoke their payment authorization (or ACH authorization) by calling and writing to the loan company and your financial institution or by issuing a stop payment order. Visit the CFPB website for sample letters .

Note: Stopping payment via ACH debit does not cancel your contract with payday lenders. You must still pay off the full balance of your loan, but you can work with the lender to determine an alternate method.

An ACH hold is typically part of a financial institution’s processing protocol. The end user (you) likely isn’t able to intervene.

However, if you’d like to try to remove the hold or cancel the transaction, you may contact your bank’s customer service representative to see if anything can be done.

Also, you can follow the steps above to revoke ACH authorization if the hold reflects an unauthorized transaction. That step may or may not cancel the pending transaction but can help curtail future debits that you don’t want to take place.

Recommended: How to Open a Bank Account

The Takeaway

ACH (or Automated Clearing House) holds work to protect banks during transfer processing. While delays may seem annoying at times, there are pros and cons to them in this situation. When a company initiates an ACH debit from your account, the hold allows the bank to confirm that funds are available to complete the transaction, which can ensure good flow of finances. Such holds also give you an opportunity to identify any unauthorized ACH debits, which is definitely a plus.

Having a bank that looks out for your best interests is another thing that’s usually a big plus. Which is why SoFi makes sure you can manage all your automatic payments seamlessly so your finances can stay on-track and organized. But that’s not all. When you open an online bank account with direct deposit, you’ll earn a competitive annual percentage yield (APY) and pay no account fees, both of which can help your money grow faster.

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How long can a bank hold an ACH transfer?

When an entity, such as your employer or the government, issues you a direct deposit via ACH transfer, your bank must generally make the funds available for withdrawal by the next business day. However, weekends and bank holidays do not count as business days, so it may take a few days to get your money even after an ACH transfer has gone through.

How long does it take an ACH check to clear?

Financial institutions may be able to process ACH transfers in one to two business days or on the same day. However, a bank or credit union might hold onto transferred funds once it receives them, generally until the next business day.

What is the ACH hold check order fee?

In your banking life, you might encounter the phrase “ACH hold check order fee.” It typically just means that your financial institution charges a fee for ordering checks, which may be automatically deducted from your account. The “ACH hold” is the pending fee that’s been debited and the “check order” tells you why the fee is being deducted.

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