Ellen Cibula
Written by Ellen Cibula Payments, Finance, and AI Expert: Learn More

Are you wondering why you received an ACH return?

As an industry veteran who has worked at a payment processor, I’ve seen first hand the pain points that merchant experience when it comes to managing returned payments. That’s why I wrote this post — to provide 9 great tips for reducing ACH return rates.

You’ll find practical tips from verifying customer information to strategies for handling ACH returns. Plus, I go over some of the most common ACH return codes and how to prevent them.

Keep reading and start taking steps towards better payment management!

Infographic showing the 9 tips to prevent ACH returns
9 Great Tips to Prevent ACH Returns

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Understanding ACH Returns

The world of Automated Clearing House (ACH) transactions can be complex, but one aspect that often causes confusion is the concept of an ACH return.

When a transaction doesn’t go as planned through the ACH network — maybe due to insufficient funds in the receiver’s account or incorrect account number details — it results in what’s known as an ACH return.

You need to understand these returns and their associated codes.

The Basics of ACH Transactions

Every time you initiate an ACH credit to send money or an ACH debit to receive money from another party’s bank account, you’re conducting an ACH transfer. This is true even if you use a payment processor for your ACH payments.

The process involves your financial institution acting like a middleman between both parties. Normally everything goes smoothly with no hiccups on either end and within a few banking days.

What happens if you accidentally send the wrong information when you send the ACH transfer? That’s when you will get an ACH return.

Diving into Different Types Of ACH Returns

A critical part of understanding ACH returns is getting familiarized with different types of return reason codes used by banks across America.

Each code signifies specific problems encountered during processing, which allows you to quickly identify why a payment has been returned so you can take appropriate action accordingly — whether reaching out to customers for correct account numbers or considering legal actions against fraudulent activities.

A few terms you should know when dealing with ACH returns:

  • Originating Depository Financial Institution (ODFI): the financial institution that initiates the EFT for the originator.
  • Receiving Depository Financial Institution (RDFI): the bank that receives the ACH request on behalf of the recipient.

Fees Associated With Returned Payments

Beyond causing delays in receiving payments owed from clients, each instance where your business encounters failed payments also incurs additional costs via fees charged by your bank. These are commonly referred to as return fees.

Depending upon policies and terms and conditions agreed upon initially, an ACH return fee may range anywhere between $20-$50 per occurrence, making it even more important to ensure accuracy while initiating recurring payments.

key takeaway

ACH returns, resulting from issues like insufficient funds or incorrect account details, can complicate transactions and incur fees. By understanding return codes and ensuring accuracy in initiating payments, businesses can avoid these pitfalls and streamline their financial operations.

9 Great Ways to Prevent ACH Returns


Here are my 9 great tips to prevent ACH returns:

1. Maintain accurate customer information
2. Obtain customer authorization
3. Communicate quickly with customers
4. Ensure funds are available
5. Handle returns ASAP
6. Monitor transactions
7. Reconcile ACH transactions
8. Beware of high-risk transactions
9. Use fraud prevention measures

ACH returns can be a real headache for businesses. They cause delays in payment processing and may lead to financial losses. But, there are strategies you can put into place to lower the risk of an ACH return.

  1. Maintain Accurate Customer Information: The devil is often in the details when it comes to avoiding ACH returns. Incorrect or outdated customer information frequently leads to these issues, so make sure your records are accurate and updated regularly. This includes bank account numbers, routing numbers, and other key data before initiating transactions.
  2. Obtain Customer Authorization: An essential part of dodging potential pitfalls with ACH payments involves obtaining proper authorization from customers upfront, according to NACHA Operating Rules. Don’t forget this step – it is required.
  3. Communicate Quickly with Customers: To avoid any misunderstandings that could lead to your system dashboard being full of unexpected return codes, communicate early about upcoming scheduled debits.

    Pay attention to banking days, giving your customers time to ensure sufficient funds are available. Basically, don’t tell them on Friday afternoon that they have an upcoming debit on Monday — they won’t have time to add money to their account if it is low.

    By giving advance notice, you can reduce the chances of receiving insufficient funds errors.
  4. Ensure Funds are Available: Before initiating an ACH debit, ping the customer account to check the available fund balance. This can prevent a transaction from failing because of insufficient funds.
  5. Handle Returns Promptly: If you receive a return, handle it quickly.
  6. Monitor Transactions: You should monitor ACH transactions and identify any unusual activity or potential issues.
  7. Reconcile ACH Transactions: Regularly reconcile these transactions to identify discrepancies. If you find any discrepancies, handle them immediately.
  8. Beware Of High-Risk Transactions: If you know that certain types of transactions have previously resulted in high rates of returned entries, such as large amounts or those involving new end users, consider implementing additional safeguards like using verification services. These services are provided by third-party vendors.
  9. Use Fraud Prevention Measures: Protect against ACH fraud and unauthorized transactions by implementing strong security measures. This may include multi-factor authentication, encryption, and fraud monitoring systems.

Please note: The above measures will significantly help mitigate risks associated with common reasons for returns, but they cannot completely eliminate the possibility of an ACH return. Always stay alert and understand how to handle them should one occur.

Common Reasons for ACH Returns

An ACH return can be a bit of a curveball in your financial operations. It’s the banking equivalent of having an envelope returned to sender — inconvenient but usually preventable.

The key lies in understanding why these returns happen.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” So let’s jump into some common reasons behind ACH returns and how you might avoid them with better planning and execution.

Insufficient Funds

If there was ever an ‘Achilles heel’ for ACH transactions, it would be insufficient funds. When the account doesn’t have enough money at transaction time, we hit our first roadblock: The bank rejects it as an ACH return code R01: Insufficient Funds.

This often happens when customers overlook scheduled payments or face unexpected expenses that deplete their accounts before payment clearance.

To dodge this bullet, you could consider sending reminders about upcoming payments or offering flexible payment schedules.

Closed Accounts

Sometimes consumers close out old accounts forgetting they’ve authorized companies for recurring charges like utilities or subscription services. Any ACH attempt that gets made to draw funds from a closed bank account results in an error code R02: Closed Bank Account.

How do you prevent this, as you have no control over your customer’s accounts? You can periodically check for account active status amongst your customer accounts.

Error-Prone Account Information

A small typo during data entry or using outdated information if someone changes banks without updating billing info with you — all such scenarios lead to failed transactions. This error falls under ACH return code R03: No Account/Unable To Locate Account.

Another common ACH return code is R04: Invalid Account Number. This occurs when the account number provided is incorrect or invalid.

Ensuring accurate record-keeping and double-checking all entered data are simple yet effective measures to minimize errors that can cause returns.

No Authorization Given

The last significant reason behind ACH returns might be the lack of proper authorization. Several return codes deal with authorization.

Any ACH transactions in which the customer has revoked the authorization get flagged as ACH return code R07: Authorization Revoked by Customer,

R05: Unauthorized Debit to Consumer Account happens when ACH transactions are unauthorized debits to consumers’ accounts.

A similar return code is R10: Customer Advises Not Authorize, which occurs when the customer informs the RDFI that the ACH transaction was not authorized.

R29: Corporate Customer Advises Not Authorized is very similar to R10 but for corporate customers.

key takeaway

ACH returns can throw a wrench in your financial operations, but they’re often preventable. Key culprits include insufficient funds, erroneous account information, closed accounts, and lack of authorization.

Businesses can sidestep these pitfalls with proactive measures like payment reminders, meticulous record-keeping, and regular verification checks.

4 Steps to Handling ACH Returns

ACH returns can feel like a labyrinth of confusion for business owners. Having the necessary expertise and tools in your possession will allow you to efficiently traverse this intricate process.

  1. The first step is to crack the code – The reason code that is: “Knowledge comes from learning. Wisdom comes from living.” Anthony Douglas Williams wasn’t wrong when he said these words. Understanding what each reason code signifies gives you wisdom about why an ACH transaction was returned. Different codes call for different actions — some might need immediate attention, while others may just require minor adjustments or monitoring over time.
  2. Maintaining Clear Communication With Your Customers: If customer-related issues such as insufficient funds or closed accounts cause an ACH return, reaching out promptly yet professionally is crucial. Discussing possible solutions not only resolves problems faster but also helps maintain good relationships with customers — vital for any successful business.
  3. Maintain Stellar Records: Paying close attention to detail by maintaining accurate records of all transactions, including those that have been returned, allows you to identify patterns and recurring problems over time. These records are also useful during audits and can assist in resolving potential disputes between parties involved.
  4. Take Corrective Actions Based On Identified Reasons: These measures could include updating customer information regularly, implementing stricter payment policies, and enhancing security protocols, among other things, depending on the initial problem that caused the return.

Remember that proactive management will always serve better than reactive responses when managing returned items within the ACH network system.

key takeaway

Unravel the ACH return maze by:

  • Cracking Reason Codes
  • Communicating clearly with customers
  • Keeping meticulous records
  • Taking corrective actions based on identified reasons.

Remember: for smoother transactions and improved profitability, proactive management is better than reactive responses.

Leveraging Technology for ACH Returns

Don’t fret. The digital era brings with it a wealth of technological solutions designed to simplify the ACH returns process.

It’s time to harness technology for efficient management of ACH returns.

The famous saying from Miguel de Cervantes goes: “To be prepared is half the victory.”

In dealing with complex financial processes like handling common ACH return codes or navigating through an ACH transaction that settles, being equipped with advanced tech tools can make all the difference between smooth sailing and choppy waters.

Automated Systems

Dive into automated systems: Automation has revolutionized how businesses handle their operations, including those related to finance, such as receiving money via recurring payments from customers’ bank account numbers or processing returned transactions due to incorrect account number details.

A well-implemented automation system not only saves precious time but also reduces human error. The result? More accurate data analysis. How does more accurate data analysis help you? It helps prevent future occurrences of similar issues, like unintended credit transfers or bounced checks caused by closed accounts.

Digital Banking Platforms

Synchronize With Digital Banking Platforms: As we move deeper into the age where everything happens online, banks, too, have evolved, providing robust methods tailored specifically for business needs — one method is the effective handling of failed payments associated with ACH debit transactions.

These modern platforms provide real-time visibility over your complete list of ACH transactions. This visibility includes any associated return settlement dates, fees, and return codes.

key takeaway

Embrace the digital era and let technology simplify your ACH return processes. Use automated systems for accuracy and sync with modern banking platforms for real-time visibility.


ACH returns can seem complex, but they’re simply part of the financial landscape.

From understanding common reasons for these returns to strategies that help avoid them — it’s all about being proactive.

By following these tips for preventing ACH returns, you can reduce the number that you may receive.

And when an ACH return does occur? It’s crucial to handle it with best practices in mind.

You can also use technology to aid in the efficient management and processing of ACH returns.

I hope this post helps you in the unfortunate event that you receive an ACH return.


An ACH return occurs when a transaction fails to process. The funds are sent back to the originator’s account, and a return code specifies the reason for failure.

Risks of ACH returns include financial loss due to fees, disrupted cash flow, damaged customer relationships, and potential regulatory scrutiny if returns exceed permissible levels.

The National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA) rules allow up to 60 days from the settlement date for consumers to dispute unauthorized transactions.

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