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How to Trace an ACH Transaction

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Ryleigh Stangness | June 8, 2022

“Whether sending or receiving a payment, here's how to trace an ACH transaction.”
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    You know what it's like. You place an order online, and it's supposed to show up on your doorstep in a day or two. Usually, it does. Sometimes it doesn't. And if you haven't seen it, you can easily go to the confirmation email and click on "Track Package." That link tells you where the shipper thinks your package is. But does it work the same way when you send (or receive) money? Can you just click a link in an email to track an ACH transfer if it hasn't shown up?

    What does ACH mean in banking? Read more here.

    The Check is in the Mail

    Ordering online is pretty reliable these days, but ACH transfers are even more dependable. Millions of companies use the Federal Automated Clearing House (ACH) Network for bank-to-bank transactions. Gone are the days when you were forced to write a paper check and entrust it to the postal service to deliver. It still happens, but you have a choice as a business to better secure payments by making them online.

    ACH transactions, unlike paper checks, can't be lost, stolen, or otherwise disappear. Gone is the excuse, "the check is in the mail." Also, you can have great peace of mind making large payments. There is nothing like the stress of waiting and hoping a paper check for $50k makes it through the post office for 7 to 10 days.

    So, automated transfers have become common, if not the norm, for companies to:

    • Pay utilities
    • Pay vendors
    • Make payroll
    • Receive B2B payments from clients
    • Accept B2C payments from consumers

    And it almost always works without a hitch. There are so many benefits for businesses to use ACH payments, aside from being a fairly straightforward and easy process -the sender simply initiates the transfer, and within about three days, the money arrives, and everyone is happy. But sometimes, it doesn't. If online transactions are so secure, what could ever happen that you would need to track them down?

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    Why You Might Need to Track an ACH Transaction

    Like with your package you bought online, you're not likely to bother even trying to start an ACH trace unless something seems to go wrong. Or when you're getting impatient and don't really remember exactly when the package (or the money) should arrive. So, assuming you waited the three days for the ACH transaction to clear, you might need to check on the money if:

    • Someone's paycheck didn't show up in their account
    • Payment sent for the reimbursement of employee expenses wasn't deposited
    • Your vendor didn't get the payment you sent for your last invoice
    • The utility company says your bill is still outstanding
    • A customer or client has paid you, but you don't see the payment in your account

    Fortunately, bank trace numbers let you follow the money and get visibility over every transaction.

    How to Track an ACH Transfer

    So, after you've waited at least three days, if the money still hasn't shown up and you are concerned for whatever reason, you can contact your payment provider who will have procedures in place to follow up. Typically you will only need to pull up the tracing number if a payment is bounced or if there is a dispute, and even then it is rare since your payment provider will have many other security standards in place. Tracking an ACH transaction involves the following steps:

    Step #1 - ACH Trace Number Lookup

    Your payment company can trace your ACH transaction by pulling up your trace ID number. Every transaction has two ACH reference numbers. Only one of them is yours. The other one belongs to the other end of the transaction. As transit/ routing numbers are communicated between the ACH network and your bank it will take a few days to pull up these details.

    Step #2 - Contact Your Financial Institution

    If you sent the money - Call your payment processor and have them pull up the ACH trace ID lookup. When they are able to pull this up they can also confirm all the details, like the date, amount, and the ACH tracking number.

    If you are waiting for money to arrive - Contact the payer and ask them to complete an ACH trace ID lookup. They should be able to give you an ACH confirmation number. Ask them to contact their bank or payment processor, and you can contact yours, too.

    Step #3 - Tracking the Payment

    It would be nice if you could actually do much to track the payment yourself, but you can't. Just like with a package you ordered online, those moving the package are the only ones who really know where it is. You might feel frustrated, but you can rely on your payment provider to sort it out. Usually, they can find the money within the ACH network reasonably quickly.

    How to Find Out Where an ACH Payment Came From

    If you look out on your doorstep and see a package you aren't expecting, you want to know where it came from. That's why we use return addresses (aside from actually returning stuff.) If you receive an ACH payment in your bank account that you weren't expecting, you'll probably want to know where it came from, too. Not to, as they say, look a gift horse in the mouth, but it is a small mystery that must be solved. So, use the same instructions to find the "Transaction Details." The details remain hidden on your regular online statement until you click on the line item. Then, voila! All is revealed, and the mystery solved.

    Note Your ACH Confirmation Number

    Since ACH transfers are not instantaneous, an ACH confirmation number often works as proof of payment. When sending payment, ask the recipient if they would like the ACH confirmation number. That proves the money was sent. Then, if there are any issues, they have everything they need to track the ACH transaction without contacting you.

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    Case Solved

    Business finance means accounting for every penny, every minute. Whether you are sending or receiving money, you always want to stay on top of every transaction. Having the ability to trace your ACH transfers gives you access to the information you need to keep your books balanced, bills paid, and cash flow up. It might be a bit more difficult to track an ACH transaction than to click the email for your lost package, but at least you know nobody stole it off your doorstep.

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