Guide to Unfreezing Your Credit Report

If you use your credit card for everything, from paying bills to ordering takeout to booking trips, you put yourself at risk for fraudsters to steal your credit card information.

One way to protect your sensitive information is to put a freeze on your credit report. A credit freeze provides you with an extra layer of security because it prevents anyone from running a hard inquiry on your report or potentially opening a new line of credit without your permission.

But at some point you might want to open a new credit card or apply for a loan. So how do you unlock a credit freeze? In this guide, you’ll learn all about how to unfreeze credit.

What Does it Mean to Unfreeze Credit?

When you freeze your credit report, you can’t open a new line of credit, whether that’s a credit card, mortgage, auto loan, or something else. At the same time, no one can run a hard inquiry on your credit report — so lenders, landlords, even potential employers can’t access it. While there are limits on who can legally look at your credit report, a credit freeze can provide peace of mind that no one can open an account in your name.

When you unfreeze your credit, it’s like you’re turning back on the credit report. Once your credit is unfrozen, you can once again open a new line of credit, and lenders can run a hard pull on your report.

How a Credit Freeze Works

Also known as a security freeze, a credit freeze restricts access to your credit file. Credit freezes don’t happen automatically. You have to reach out to each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — to ask for a credit freeze.
Thanks to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, if you request a credit freeze over the phone or online, the credit bureaus are required to freeze your report within 24 hours. If you send the request via mail, they have up to three business days.

When you make a credit freeze request, each bureau will give you a PIN (personal identification number) or password that you need when you decide to lift the freeze.

A credit freeze is often confused with a credit lock, but they’re two separate things. A credit lock is a service you sign up for, and there’s usually a subscription fee. It’s similar to a credit freeze as you block access from most lenders. However, you can freeze or unfreeze it at any time on your phone or computer, and you don’t have to wait for it to go into effect.

A credit freeze is free, and you have to go through the credit bureaus to thaw your credit, and it takes about an hour to go into effect.

Types of Credit Freeze Lifts

At some point you may think about unlocking your credit freeze. When the time comes, there are two main types of credit freeze lifts:

Temporary lift

A temporary lift will unfreeze your credit report for a designated time period. You can choose how long you’d like your credit to be thawed, but it’s typically anywhere from one to 30 days.

You can thaw your credit freeze temporarily to apply for new credit, take out a loan, or apply to rent an apartment. But once you’re done with that financial task, the freeze restarts.

Permanent lift

A permanent lift will thaw your credit freeze for an indefinite amount of time. You might want to go this route if you don’t want to go through the steps of freezing and unfreezing your credit and find that the trouble isn’t worth the benefits.

Recommended: How to Read and Understand Your Credit Report

Ways to Unfreeze Credit Using Bureaus

How do you unfreeze your credit? You just need to contact each of the credit bureaus. You can do it in one of three ways:

•   Phone: If you request a lift by phone, the credit bureaus are required to thaw your credit within an hour.

•   Online: If you make the request online, your credit freeze will also be lifted within the hour.

•   Mail: You can also request a credit thaw by mail. If you go this route, expect the lift to happen within three business days.

Recommended: How to Dispute a Credit Report and Win Your Case

When You Should Unfreeze Your Credit

Generally, you need to unfreeze your credit anytime someone needs to review your credit report, like if you’re opening a new line of credit or applying for a loan. Some common scenarios of when you’ll need to unfreeze your credit:

•   Applying for a credit card

•   Applying for a mortgage, personal loan, or car loan

•   Applying for a line of credit

•   Hunting for an apartment

Recommended: Common Credit Report Errors and How to Dispute Them

Credit Freeze vs. Fraud Alert

If you’re at high risk for fraud, or you suspect you’ve been a victim of a credit card scam, or you just want to take extra precautions, you can set up a fraud alert on your credit report. When you have a fraud alert in place, a lender or creditor needs to verify your identity before they can issue you a new line of credit or approve you for a loan.

To place a fraud alert, you only need to reach out to one of the three credit bureaus. By law, that credit bureau must let the other two credit bureaus know you placed a fraud alert. In turn, all three credit bureaus will place a fraud alert on your credit file.

Initial fraud alerts are free, and initial fraud alerts last one year. After one year, you can renew it. Extended fraud alerts last for seven years, but they are for victims of identity theft, and you must submit a police report to qualify.

A credit freeze, on the other hand, blocks any party, including lenders and creditors, from accessing your credit. You need to place a credit freeze separately with each of the three credit bureaus, which lasts indefinitely. They can only be lifted when you make a request.



💡 Quick Tip: On-time payments are key to building your credit score. To ensure that you make your payments in time, consider setting up automatic payments or set a calendar reminder of your due date.

The Takeaway

Unfreezing your credit report is relatively simple, and it’s easy to set up a temporary lift should you decide you want to apply for a new credit card or personal loan. There are a few different ways you can go about thawing your credit as needed, and the credit bureaus have to unfreeze your credit within an hour of you making the request by phone or online.

Whether you're looking to build credit, apply for a new credit card, or save money with the cards you have, it's important to understand the options that are best for you. Learn more about credit cards by exploring this credit card guide.

FAQ

Can I unfreeze my credit?

You can unfreeze your credit anytime by going through each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — and requesting a lift on your credit freeze. You can ask for either a permanent or temporary lift. The thaw usually lasts anywhere from one to 30 days if it’s temporary.

Can you freeze your credit automatically?

Credit freezes don’t happen automatically. You will need to contact the three credit bureaus and make a proper request. You can do so online, by telephone, or via snail mail.

How soon can I unfreeze my credit after freezing?

You can unfreeze your credit as frequently as you like and request a credit lift as soon as you freeze it. If you made the request online or over the phone, it can take up to an hour to unfreeze your credit. If you send the request in the mail, it can take up to three business days.

How long does it take to unfreeze your credit?

It depends on the credit bureau and how you made your request. If you requested your credit to unfreeze or “thaw” over the phone or email, the credit bureaus must lift it within an hour. If you made the request by mail, the credit bureaus must unfreeze your credit within three business days.

Can I still use my credit card after freezing my credit?

Freezing your credit doesn’t impact your ability to use your credit card. You can freely make purchases on your card, book trips, redeem your cash-back points, and so forth. But if you want to do something that requires a hard pull of your credit — apply for new credit, loan, or submit a rental application for an apartment — you’ll need to unfreeze first.

Photo credit: iStock/nortonrsx


Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

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What to Do if Your Credit Card Chip Stops Working

It’s your turn at the supermarket checkout. You insert your card into the reader, chip-side first, like you always do. And you get a “card declined” message.

A credit card malfunction can be a small embarrassment and disruption in your day-to-day life. But if your credit card chip stops working, don’t panic. There are several reasons why it might be malfunctioning, including wear and tear, dirt buildup, or an issue with your account.

Let’s dig into the basics of credit card chips, the different reasons a credit card chip might stop working, and what to do if it malfunctions.


💡 Quick Tip: If you have a good credit score, you can apply for a credit card from SoFi without a security deposit.

What Is a Credit Card Chip?

A credit card chip is a microchip that’s embedded in your credit card. The chip protects your data when you make an in-person payment. It uses a process called tokenization that encrypts your information, and generates a one-time code for each transaction.

Thanks to this technology, your credit card information is never received or transmitted by the merchant. This lowers the instances of credit card fraud when you use your card in a store or restaurant.

How a credit card chip works

This technology is also known as “card-and-PIN,” “card-and-signature,” or EMV (aka Europay, MasterCard, and Visa). The microchip that’s embedded in your card uses a process called tokenization. This is the same technology used in contactless credit cards and payments. In short, tokenization takes your sensitive card information and converts it into a unique token. This token protects your card info and account details.

The credit card chip holds encrypted data and transaction codes. These transaction codes are unique, one-time use, and always changing. As a result, it’s hard for counterfeit thieves to duplicate the data that’s stored on the chip.

Credit card chip types

Within the realm of credit cards, there are three main chip types:

Standard “smart cards:” If you want to make an in-person purchase or take out cash at an ATM, many “smart cards” with the EMV chip technology simply require you to insert or “dip” your card into the card terminal.

Chip-and-PIN cards: This type of credit credit chip offers the most security. To make a purchase or make a withdrawal from an ATM with a chip-and-PIN card, you’ll need to first “dip” your card into the card reader, then punch in your credit card PIN code.

Chip-and-signature cards: This type of chip card provides a bit more security than if you simply swiped your card, but it’s not as secure as the chip-and-PIN type card. As the name implies, to use your card, you insert your card into the reader, then provide a signature for the transaction to go through.

Chip-and-signature cards aren’t as secure as their chip-and-PIN counterparts because it’s easier for fraudsters to forge a signature than to decipher your 4-digit PIN.

5 Things That Can Cause a Credit Card Chip to Stop Working

Here are some reasons why your credit card stopped working, and how to avoid these hiccups from happening:

Grime buildup

Your card encounters dirt each time you insert or swipe in a machine, and grime will build up over time. This grime buildup could mean the terminal can’t read your card. To avoid this from happening, wipe down your card periodically.

Wear and tear

Over time, the chip can get scratched or damaged. While scratches to the plastic on your card won’t cause any issues, scratches or dings to the chip might cause your chip to stop working and the transaction won’t go through.

To prevent wear and tear, consider protecting your physical card with a protective sleeve holder. These are usually made of a thin yet durable material, like synthetic fibers.

Heat or water damage

If you accidentally spill coffee and your credit card gets doused in the hot liquid, or you leave your card in the hot car in the middle of summer, the chip on your card might get warped and go on the fritz.

To avoid this from happening, keep your card in your wallet when not in use. And be mindful of exposing it to extreme heat.

Recommended: All You Need to Know About Credit Card Numbers

Issue with the card reader

Your card might not be the problem at all. Sometimes the issue might have to do with the card reader, also known as the terminal, which acts as the middle man between the retailer and the bank, and authorizes and processes your payment. If there’s a technical glitch with the terminal, your chip might not work.

In this case, try swiping your card instead of doing the chip-and-PIN route. Hopefully that will resolve the issue and your payment will go through.

Issue with your account

Sometimes when your chip stops working it’s because there’s an issue with your account. Common reasons include going over your credit limit, the billing info doesn’t match with your account, or you’re making purchases in locations where you don’t normally shop.

To steer clear of this potential issue, watch your credit limit. You can log on to your account or check your card balance on your card’s mobile app. If you’re using your card while on a business trip or vacation, set a vacation alert.


💡 Quick Tip: When using your credit card, make sure you’re spending within your means. Ideally, you won’t charge more to your card in any given month than you can afford to pay off that month.

What to Do if Your Credit Card Chip Stops Working

Here’s how to fix your credit card’s chip if it’s not working:

Clean the card

If your chip is malfunctioning because of dirt buildup, try to clean your card. Gently wipe it down with an antibacterial wipe, alcohol pad, or microfiber cloth. You can also gently wipe around the edges of your chip with a cotton swab.

Swipe instead

The magnetic stripe on your card also contains your account data. If the problem is with the checkout terminal, try swiping instead of dipping your card. There’s a chance that your transaction will go through without a hitch.

Get a replacement card

If the chip on your card regularly doesn’t work and no amount of cleaning fixes the problem, you might need to reach out to your credit card issuer and ask for a new one. You can do so by calling the number on the back of your card or on the issuer’s website or app. You can sometimes request a new card directly on the app or issuer’s website.

How long it will take for you to receive a replacement card depends on the credit card issuer, but you can expect it to take anywhere from one to seven business days. There might be a charge for a replacement card and a charge if you want shipment to be expedited.

The Takeaway

There are a handful of reasons why your credit card chip stopped working. By doing a bit of investigating, you can get to the root of the issue and troubleshoot accordingly. Most likely you’ll just need to wipe down the card, but sometimes you may need to request a new one.

Looking for a new credit card? Consider a rewards card that can make your money work for you. With the SoFi Credit Card, you earn cash-back rewards on all eligible purchases. You can then use those rewards for travel or to invest, save, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.

FAQ

What do you do if your credit card chip doesn’t work?

If your credit card chip isn’t working, don’t get frustrated. There’s usually a simple explanation why. It could be the result of normal wear-and-tear, heat or water damage, or grime buildup. Or it could be an issue with the card terminal or your account.

Try to clean your card to see if that helps. If you’re in the middle of a purchase, swipe your card instead of inserting it into the terminal. In some instances, you might need to replace your credit card.

What can ruin a chip in a credit card?

There are a few ways a credit card chip can get ruined: regular wear and tear, grime buildup, or extreme heat or water damage.

Can you still use your card if the chip is broken?

You can still use your card by swiping. However, swiping your card instead of going the “chip-and-PIN” or “chip-and-signature” route reduces its security.

Photo credit: iStock/Juanmonino


Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.


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No Limit Credit Cards Explained

You may have watched a movie in which a character pulls out a fancy black credit card and brags about how he has access to unlimited money. The reality is that there is no such credit card. Some credit cards do come with “no preset spending limit,” but even those cards have some sort of controls and restrictions.

When you have a credit card with no preset spending limit, each purchase is evaluated on a case-by-case basis for approval. As long as you are using the card responsibly and regularly paying down your balance, you shouldn’t have any problems with purchases being declined.

Do No-Limit Credit Cards Exist?

While most credit cards do come with specific credit limits, there are cards that intentionally have no preset spending limit. Those card holders never have to worry about managing their available credit. Instead, the issuer will evaluate each purchase as it’s made to determine whether to approve it. The issuer may also provide a tool where you can check beforehand to see if a purchase will be approved.


💡 Quick Tip: A SoFi Credit Card provides access to a line of credit. It’s essentially a short-term loan that you repay each month.

Where Does the Idea of No Limit Cards Come From?

To “average” people who stick to a budget and pay their bills each month, there is something aspirational about a magical no-limit credit card. If you have an average credit limit, you might wonder what it is like to not be encumbered with one. Pop culture plays into this common desire to know what it would be like to be obscenely rich and not have to worry about money.

The Myth of the Black Credit Card With No Limit

In pop culture, the no-limit credit card always seems to be black, and there are ultra-luxury black credit cards. For example, American Express has the Centurion Card, which is a black credit card that is only available by invitation. But while the Centurion card (and other similar cards) don’t come with a preset spending limit, that doesn’t mean there is no limit at all.

Recommended: What Is a Luxury Good?

Pros and Cons of Cards With High Spending Limits

Here’s a quick overview of some pros and cons of high limit credit cards:

Pros

Cons

More convenient to pay for larger expenses It may be tempting to spend beyond your means
Harder to go over your credit limit If your card is stolen, you may be at a higher risk before you notice
A high credit limit can help your credit utilization ratio, when used responsibly A higher credit limit could mean more debt to pay down
A higher spending limit may allow you to earn rewards like unlimited cash back


💡 Quick Tip: A SoFi cash-back credit card is a great way to earn rewards without a complicated redemption process. Even better, SoFi doesn’t place limits on the amount of cash-back rewards you can earn.

What Does It Take to Have a High Limit Credit Card?

Most credit card issuers use a variety of factors when deciding both whether to approve you for a credit card and what credit limit to extend. Here are a few factors that may come into play:

A Good Credit Score

Most cards that come with no preset spending limit are considered premium or luxury credit cards. That means that you will likely need good or excellent credit to be approved.

Recommended: 8 Tips for Maintaining a Good Credit Score

A High Income

Another factor that can help you to get a high limit on a credit card is a relatively high income. Banks generally use an applicant’s income as one factor in determining a credit limit for a card. If you have a low annual income, a bank may be hesitant to issue you a credit card with a high spending limit.

An Existing Relationship With the Bank

Many banks are interested in building a relationship with their customers, especially ones they consider to be high-value. Showing that you are a loyal customer can encourage a bank to extend you additional credit. Ways to build your relationship with a bank might include opening checking or savings accounts, taking advantage of their credit card rewards program, or responsibly using existing accounts with them.

The Takeaway

While some credit cards come without a preset spending limit, all credit cards have some limitations in place. There is no publicly available credit card that will allow you to spend and spend with no consequences. If you have a card with no preset spending limit, the issuer will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to approve each purchase.

Looking for a new credit card? Consider a rewards card that can make your money work for you. With the SoFi Credit Card, you earn cash-back rewards on all eligible purchases. You can then use those rewards for travel or to invest, save, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.


FAQ

Is there a credit card that has no limit?

There aren’t really credit cards with no limit at all (like you might see in the movies). But there are credit cards that don’t have a preset spending limit. Instead, the credit card issuer will evaluate your overall financial information to determine whether to approve any purchases. This might include your income, net worth, relationship to the bank, and previous spending and payment history.

How do people get no limit credit cards?

Most cards that come with no preset spending limit are luxury credit cards, which means that you’ll need to have good or excellent credit. Having a high income is another factor that can improve your odds of being approved. You might also consider strengthening your relationship with the issuing bank, like opening a checking account or other credit cards.

What does no limit credit card mean?

A no-limit credit card generally does not mean a credit card with absolutely no limit at all. Instead, many times people are referring to a credit card with no preset spending limit. When you have a card with no preset spending limit, you won’t have a specific available credit or credit limit — instead, the bank will determine whether to approve each transaction based on your overall financial information and/or past spending history.


Photo credit: iStock/Delmaine Donson




Disclaimer: Many factors affect your credit scores and the interest rates you may receive. SoFi is not a Credit Repair Organization as defined under federal or state law, including the Credit Repair Organizations Act. SoFi does not provide “credit repair” services or advice or assistance regarding “rebuilding” or “improving” your credit record, credit history, or credit rating. For details, see the FTC’s website .

Third-Party Brand Mentions: No brands, products, or companies mentioned are affiliated with SoFi, nor do they endorse or sponsor this article. Third-party trademarks referenced herein are property of their respective owners.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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Guide to Credit Card Interest Tax Deductions

If you’re like most people, credit card interest and taxes are two things you don’t want to pay. Luckily, paying one may help you pay less for the other. Credit card interest and fees are tax-deductible in some cases. That means every dollar you pay in credit card interest might reduce a dollar of your taxable income.

If that sounds too good to be true, there is a catch — credit card interest and fees are typically only considered tax-deductible if they are legitimate business expenses. If you don’t run a business, or the interest and fees were not incurred in the operation of a business, you generally won’t be able to deduct them on your tax return.

How Credit Card Interest Works

When you make a purchase with a credit card, you don’t have to pay for it right away. Instead, you are borrowing the money for the duration of your statement (usually one month). At the end of your statement balance, you must make at least a minimum payment. But if you don’t pay the full statement amount, you will be charged credit card interest on any outstanding balance. Charging this interest is one way that issuers fund credit card perks and benefits like credit card rewards.


💡 Quick Tip: When choosing a credit card, look for one that aligns with your existing spending habits. For example, some cards offer rewards on airline purchases for frequent travelers, while others, like the SoFi Credit Card, offer cash-back rewards on all purchases.

Is Credit Card Interest Tax Deductible?

Whether or not credit card purchase interest charges are tax-deductible depends mostly on whether it is personal or business credit card interest.

Business Credit Card Interest

Business credit card interest may be tax-deductible in certain situations. Generally speaking, in order to deduct any expenses, they must be incurred in the regular operation of the business. The IRS does not have requirements about what type of credit card is used, as long as the interest is incurred on business expenses.

You may be able to deduct credit card interest on a personal credit card used for business purchases. However, most credit card agreements prohibit the use of personal credit cards for business purposes on a regular basis.

Not surprisingly, you cannot typically deduct credit card interest on personal expenses charged to a business credit card. And if you pay for personal and business expenses with the same credit card, you may not be able to deduct the full amount of interest. Consult with your accountant or tax advisor if you have questions about what can and cannot be deducted.

Personal Credit Card Interest

Personal credit card interest is not tax-deductible under any circumstances. You cannot deduct interest that you pay for personal expenses on a credit card. That’s one more reason to always pay your credit card statement in full, each and every month. That way you aren’t charged any credit card interest.

Recommended: How to Do Taxes as a Freelancer

Are Credit Card Fees Tax Deductible?

Just like credit card interest, the deductibility of credit card fees largely depends on whether they are for business expenses.

Business Credit Card Fees

Credit card fees that are incurred as business expenses are generally considered deductible. This includes credit card annual fees, overdraft fees, foreign transaction fees, late fees, and balance transfer fees. As long as the credit card is used for business purposes, any fees charged by the credit card issuer will be tax-deductible.


💡 Quick Tip: When using your credit card, make sure you’re spending within your means. Ideally, you won’t charge more to your card in any given month than you can afford to pay off that month.

Personal Credit Card Fees

In contrast, personal credit card fees are not generally considered deductible. Any fees that you are charged by your credit card issuer that are not business expenses cannot be deducted from your taxable income.

Recommended: Can You Use a Personal Checking Account for Business?

Avoiding Interest and Fees vs Tax Deductions

While it’s important to understand that you may be able to deduct credit card interest and fees if they are business expenses, avoiding credit card interest may be the more prudent thing to do. If you are in a 30% tax bracket, that means deducting one dollar of interest will save you 30 cents. But if you pay your balance in full, you won’t be charged any interest and save the full dollar.

The Takeaway

Some credit card fees and interest is deductible on your annual tax return. Generally speaking, you cannot deduct personal credit card interest or fees. You may be able to deduct them if they are legitimate business expenses. Keeping your business and personal expenses separate can help you determine which fees and interest you may be able to deduct.

Looking for a new credit card? Consider a rewards card that can make your money work for you. With the SoFi Credit Card, you earn cash-back rewards on all eligible purchases. You can then use those rewards for travel or to invest, save, or pay down eligible SoFi debt.


FAQ

Can you deduct credit card interest as business expense?

As credit card interest rates rise, the amount of interest that you’re charged each month on any unpaid balances also rises. So you may be wondering if you can deduct credit card interest from your taxable income. The good news is that as long as the interest is a legitimate business expense, you can generally deduct the interest.

Are credit card fees tax deductible?

It’s important to understand how different credit card-related items affect your taxes. Credit card rewards are generally not considered taxable, while some credit card fees may be tax-deductible. You may be able to deduct most credit card fees as long as they are considered legitimate business expenses. Personal credit card fees are not generally considered deductible.

Can you write off personal credit card annual fees?

No, in nearly all cases, you cannot take a tax deduction for personal credit card fees. Only credit card fees that are legitimate business expenses are tax-deductible. However, it’s important to understand that the IRS does not make any distinction between what might be marketed as a “personal” card or a “business” credit card.


Photo credit: iStock/Cameron Prins




Tax Information: This article provides general background information only and is not intended to serve as legal or tax advice or as a substitute for legal counsel. You should consult your own attorney and/or tax advisor if you have a question requiring legal or tax advice.

Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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ACH vs. EFT: What Is the Difference?

ACH vs EFT: What Is the Difference?

Banking today has a lot of one-click convenience, and you may hear the terms EFT and ACH used interchangeably. There is, however, a key difference between these two acronyms: ACH is one kind of EFT.

To understand this better, first know your definitions. Automated Clearing House (ACH) is a national network linking U.S. financial institutions. This electronic system allows them to debit money from one account and then credit it to another. ACH payments are one variety of EFT, or electronic funds transfer. The term EFT includes additional methods of moving money electronically, such as wire transfers.

So all ACH transactions are considered EFT, but not all EFTs are ACH.

Keep reading to learn more including:

•   Which payments are considered ACH?

•   What are some other EFT payment methods?

•   How do EFT vs. ACH vs. wire transfers compare?

ACH Transfers

ACH stands for Automated Clearing House, a network governed by Nacha (National Automated Clearing House Association). The first ACH association appeared in 1972 in California; by 1974, multiple regional networks joined together to form Nacha, which has since overseen the ACH network nationally.

But what is ACH? Put simply, ACH is a type of electronic fund transfer (EFT) that allows individuals, corporations, and even the government to electronically move money from one bank account to another. It can be thought of as a hub that keeps funds flowing.

ACH payments work domestically; that is, among banks and credit unions within the United States. You may be able to send money via international ACH transfers, but other countries will have their own networks and governing bodies. Some countries do not have an equivalent network at all.

Funds first go to the Automated Clearing House, which then reviews the payments and releases them in batches throughout the day. For this reason, ACH transfers are not immediate. How long ACH transfers take can vary: Traditional ACH transfers can take one to two business days, but in recent years, Nacha has enabled same-day transfers for eligible transactions.

How Do ACH Transfers Work?

ACH transfers work thanks to a data file that includes information about a prospective payment. The file goes to the payor’s bank to the clearing house and then on to the payee’s bank, with details on the transaction. The funds get moved into the intended location, and the process is completed, transferring money from one account to another.

💡 Quick Tip: Make money easy. Enjoy the convenience of managing bills, deposits, transfers from one online bank account with SoFi.

How Is ACH Used?

Consumers and businesses can use ACH for a variety of purposes. For example, employers often use the ACH network for direct deposit. This enables them to deposit paychecks directly into employees’ bank accounts. When an entity, like an employer or the government, initiates the ACH process to send funds, this is classified as an ACH credit.

Individuals can provide bank account information to businesses, such as mortgage lenders and utility companies, to enable ACH debit transactions as part of their electronic banking. This means those companies are able to directly debit funds from the individual account using ACH as a form of electronic bill payment. Businesses and individuals may utilize ACH debit for autopay (recurring payments) or for one-time payments.

Even peer-to-peer (P2P) payment methods like PayPal and Venmo can utilize the Automated Clearing House network for electronic transfers. (When such services offer instant payments, they may charge a fee and use your credit card instead, so proceed carefully in these situations.)

Typically, the employer or merchant enabling ACH payments is the one to pay ACH fees.

Recommended: ACH Payments vs. a Check

What Is EFT?

Electronic fund transfers (EFTs) refer to a much broader range of electronic payments. ACH is a type of EFT, but EFT can also include payments like wire transfers, debit card payments, credit card payments, local bank transfers, instant P2P payments, and even ATM transfers. Electronic fund transfers can be domestic or international in scope.

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau refers to electronic fund transfers as “any transfer of funds that is initiated through an electronic terminal, telephone, computer, or magnetic tape.”

Note: Another common term in finance is ETF (exchange-traded fund). The acronyms are similar, so it’s important to recognize that an ETF is an investment security, not a payment method.

How Do EFT Payments Work?

EFT payments may use the ACH network, or they may not. An example of a transaction that doesn’t use ACH is tapping or swiping your debit card to make a payment. It’s an instantaneous transfer of funds, without banking information being exchanged. The money is moved from your account to the store’s without any verification other than your PIN.

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Types of EFT Payments

EFT payment is a broad category, including common transfers like ACH and wire transfers. Here is just a short list of payment methods that can be classified as EFT:

•   ACH transfers

•   Wire transfers

•   Peer-to-peer payments (often done through ACH)

•   Debit card transactions (in person or online)

•   Credit card transactions (in person or online)

•   ATM transfers

•   E-checks

•   Telephone orders

Do EFT Payments Have Fees?

Typically, a merchant will pay a small percentage of a transaction’s amount for the privilege of using an EFT method. In some situations, you, the consumer, may be assessed a fee for using these methods. For instance, some merchants may add a surcharge for credit card vs. cash or debit card payments. Or if you pay by phone, there may be a surcharge. You should be alerted to these add-on costs, however, in advance, so you can decide if you want to proceed or not.

What Is the Difference Between ACH and EFT?

We’ve established that the key difference between ACH and EFT is that an ACH is a type of EFT. This table further breaks down the distinction:

ACH

EFT

AvailabilityTraditional ACH is available domestically (in the U.S.).Various types of EFTs can be used internationally.
SecurityTransfers pass through the ACH, which provides an added level of security over paper checks and debit card transactions.While ACH and wire transfers are less prone to fraud, other forms of EFTs (like debit and credit cards) can be susceptible.
SpeedCan be same-day but never instant; may take multiple days.Can be instant.

ACH vs EFT vs Wire Transfers

When banking, you’re likely to hear about different ways to move money, including ACH, EFT, and wire transfers. Here’s a closer look: ACH is a type of EFT, but another common type of EFT is a wire transfer, which can be used to send money to someone’s bank account.

Wires can be both domestic and international and often have a fee for both the sender and the receiver, depending on the banks or transfer service agencies (like Western Union) involved. Wire transfers allow you to make an electronic payment “by wire,” such as through SWIFT, the Clearing House Interbank Payments System, or the Federal Reserve Wire Network. Wire transfers can take up to two days to fully process; international ones might take longer.

Should You Use Electronic Transfers?

Electronic transfers are common in modern banking. It is likely that you already utilize some form of electronic transfer, whether you receive a direct deposit from your employer like 96% of American workers, have your utility bills on autopay, pay for groceries with a debit card, or use peer-to-peer transfer apps to split the dinner bill or pay a friend for concert tickets. When you buy a house, the mortgage company may even ask you to wire funds in time for the closing.

The Takeaway

Automated clearing house (ACH) transfers are a type of electronic funds transfer (EFT), which allows for the direct debiting and crediting of funds from one bank account to another. Common examples of ACH include direct deposit from an employer into your bank account or an automatic bill payment debited from your account.

ACH is only one type of EFT, however; other types include wire transfers and debit and credit card payments, among others. These kinds of payments are commonly used today to keep funds flowing quickly and securely and play an important role in your banking life.

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FAQ

Is EFT the same as direct deposit?

EFT stands for electronic funds transfer. Direct deposit is one example of EFT.

Is ACH a wire transfer?

While ACH and wire transfers are similar transactions, they operate on different timelines and according to different rules. Wire transfers (especially domestic ones) can occur almost immediately, while ACH transactions can take a couple or a few business days.

What is the difference between ACH and autopay?

ACH is a method for electronically transferring funds between accounts. Autopay involves your setting up recurring payments of bills with a vendor. It typically uses the ACH network to complete those transactions.

Is ACH the same as direct deposit?

Direct deposit is one kind of ACH payment, but other kinds of ACH transactions are possible as well.

What is the best EFT payment method?

The best EFT method will depend upon various factors, such as timing and the technology you can most easily access or are most comfortable using.

Photo credit: iStock/Cecilie_Arcurs


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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a recurring deposit of regular income to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government benefit payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, or are non-recurring in nature (e.g., IRS tax refunds), do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

As an alternative to direct deposit, SoFi members with Qualifying Deposits can earn 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Qualifying Deposits means one or more deposits that, in the aggregate, are equal to or greater than $5,000 to an account holder’s SoFi Checking and Savings account (“Qualifying Deposits”) during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Qualifying Deposits only include those deposits from the following eligible sources: (i) ACH transfers, (ii) inbound wire transfers, (iii) peer-to-peer transfers (i.e., external transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc. and internal peer-to-peer transfers from a SoFi account belonging to another account holder), (iv) check deposits, (v) instant funding to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, (vi) push payments to your SoFi Bank Debit Card, and (vii) cash deposits. Qualifying Deposits do not include: (i) transfers between an account holder’s Checking account, Savings account, and/or Vaults; (ii) interest payments; (iii) bonuses issued by SoFi Bank or its affiliates; or (iv) credits, reversals, and refunds from SoFi Bank, N.A. (“SoFi Bank”) or from a merchant.

SoFi Bank shall, in its sole discretion, assess each account holder’s Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits throughout each 30-Day Evaluation Period to determine the applicability of rates and may request additional documentation for verification of eligibility. The 30-Day Evaluation Period refers to the “Start Date” and “End Date” set forth on the APY Details page of your account, which comprises a period of 30 calendar days (the “30-Day Evaluation Period”). You can access the APY Details page at any time by logging into your SoFi account on the SoFi mobile app or SoFi website and selecting either (i) Banking > Savings > Current APY or (ii) Banking > Checking > Current APY. Upon receiving a Direct Deposit or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits to your account, you will begin earning 4.60% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% on checking balances on or before the following calendar day. You will continue to earn these APYs for (i) the remainder of the current 30-Day Evaluation Period and through the end of the subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period and (ii) any following 30-day Evaluation Periods during which SoFi Bank determines you to have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits without interruption.

SoFi Bank reserves the right to grant a grace period to account holders following a change in Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits activity before adjusting rates. If SoFi Bank grants you a grace period, the dates for such grace period will be reflected on the APY Details page of your account. If SoFi Bank determines that you did not have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits during the current 30-day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, then you will begin earning the rates earned by account holders without either Direct Deposit or Qualifying Deposits until you have Direct Deposit activity or $5,000 in Qualifying Deposits in a subsequent 30-Day Evaluation Period. For the avoidance of doubt, an account holder with both Direct Deposit activity and Qualifying Deposits will earn the rates earned by account holders with Direct Deposit.

Members without either Direct Deposit activity or Qualifying Deposits, as determined by SoFi Bank, during a 30-Day Evaluation Period and, if applicable, the grace period, will earn 1.20% APY on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances.

Interest rates are variable and subject to change at any time. These rates are current as of 10/24/2023. There is no minimum balance requirement. Additional information can be found at https://www.sofi.com/legal/banking-rate-sheet.


Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

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