ACH vs. Digital Transfer: What Is the Difference?

Last updated on September 12th, 2023 at 08:13 pm

Digital money transfers are fast, convenient, and popular. However, it can be confusing when you hear all the terms associated with them: electronic transfers, ACH transactions, wire transfers, and digital transfers, to name a few. Are they actually different? How do their differences affect you?

If you’re living in the U.S., we’ve covered the difference between ACH and money orders here. Now, let’s take a look at the ACH transactions vs. digital transfers.


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What Is an ACH Transaction?

An ACH transfer is an electronic transfer of money from one bank account to another. ACH stands for Automated Clearing House, which is the network that the money moves through. This network is run by NACHA, also called the National Automated Clearing House Association.

The ACH network consists of thousands of financial institutions. This network can process various forms of financial transactions such as direct deposits from employers, online bill payments, and debit card transactions. Certain peer-to-peer payment apps also use the ACH network, such as Zelle, PayPal, or Venmo.

The term ACH is often used generically when speaking about electronic transfers between banks, even though not all electronic transfers are ACH transfers.

What Is a Digital Transfer?

An ACH transfer is a specific type of digital transfer. But it’s not the only kind.

Digital transfers can be any type of electronic transfer of money. This includes whenever money moves electronically between accounts, or from a sender to a recipient account or intermediary.

People usually initiate digital transfers via an app or website. There are multiple types of digital transfers: peer-to-peer payments, remittances sent digitally, direct deposit transactions,

Related Reading: 4 Reasons to Send Money With Remitly

ACH vs. Digital Transfer - a person writing down notes

ACH Transfers vs. Digital Transfers

Now that we’ve established the basics about ACH transfers and digital transfers, let’s take a look at the primary differences between them. These are: speed, automation level and geographic reach.


Certain digital transfers can be faster than a specific ACH transfer. That’s because the ACH network processes the transfers in batches only at specific intervals during the day.

There’s a clearing process (ensuring the funds are available) on the front end and a verification process on the recipient end. It’s common for an ACH transfer to take a few business days as a result.

ACH debit transfers are typically fast. The National Automated Clearing House Association has established a standard that ACH debit transactions must be processed by the next business day.

A digital transfer like a peer-to-peer payment or funds sent with an app like Remitly can also be fast. . In fact, some digital transfers can take as little as a few minutes to a few hours, though it depends on the service.

Read more: ACH vs. Money Order: What Is the Difference?


ACH transfers are often automatic and recurring. This means that users are more likely to set up a recurring ACH transfer, which is processed automatically going forward.

Employers paying employees via direct deposit is a good example. The transaction starts soon after an employee begins a job and happens automatically every paycheck. Another example might be a recurring deposit sent to a retirement account, or a bill payment initiated by your bank every month.

Other types of digital transfers are more likely to be initiated the moment they’re required. For example, when someone wants to send money to a friend or loved one. While the process to create a digital transfer is simple, it’s not usually an automated process. There are exceptions, of course.

Geographic Reach

All ACH transfers are U.S.-based. That’s simply because the Automated Clearing House is a U.S.-based network. This doesn’t mean an American bank can’t make an international transfer, but that would no longer be an ACH transfer because it would require more than just the ACH network (or may not utilize the ACH network at all).

Other types of digital transfers, however, are not specific to a particular network. For instance, international money transfers can be initiated and received in countries all around the world, and the funds can be delivered to global destinations.

Since a digital transfer is a more encompassing term, it includes many varieties of money transfers and many networks, financial institutions, and electronic wallet options.

About Remitly

Remitly is on a mission to make international money transfers faster, easier, more transparent, and more affordable. Since 2011, millions of people have used Remitly to send money with peace of mind.

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