ACH Processing Life Cycle
An ACH transaction starts with a Receiver authorizing an Originator to issue ACH debit or credit to an account. A Receiver is the account holder that grants the authorization. An Originator can be a person or a company (such as the gas company, a local cable company, or one's employer). Accounts are identifed by the bank's Routing Number and the Account Number within that bank.
In accordance with the rules and regulations of ACH, no financial institution may issue an ACH transaction (whether it be debit or credit) towards an account without prior authorization from the Receiver. Depending on the ACH transaction, the Originator must receive written (SEC Codes: ARC, POP, PPD), verbal (TEL), or electronic (WEB) authorization from the Receiver. Written authorization constitutes a signed form giving consent on the amount, date, or even frequency of the transaction. Verbal authorization needs to be either audio recorded or the Originator must send a receipt of the transaction details before or on the transaction date. An electronic authorization must include a customer being presented the terms of the agreement and typing or selecting some form of an "I agree" statement.
Once authorization is acquired, the Originator then creates an ACH entry to be given to an Originating Depository Financial Institution (ODFI), which can be any financial institution that does ACH origination. This ACH entry is then sent to an ACH Operator that passes it on to the Receiving Depository Financial Institution (RDFI), where the Receiver's account is issued either a debit or credit.
The RDFI may, however, reject the ACH transaction and return it to the ODFI if, for example, the account had insufficient funds or the account holder indicated that the transaction was unauthorized. An RDFI has a prescribed amount of time in which to perform returns, ranging from 2 to 60 days from the receipt of the ACH transaction. However, the majority of returned transactions are completed within 24 hours from midnight of the day the RDFI receives the transaction.
An ODFI receiving a returned ACH entry may re-present the ACH entry two more times for settlement. Again, the RDFI may reject the transaction. After which, the ODFI may no longer represent the transaction via ACH.