What Is a Trace Number?

Meow Technologies, Inc.

Meow Technologies, Inc.

A trace number is a unique identifier assigned to financial transactions like ACH transfers and wire transfers. It serves an important purpose - trace numbers allow banks, payment processors, and account holders to track payments and investigate any issues that arise. When key details about transfers go missing or payments disappear into the abyss of the financial system, trace numbers can help uncover what happened behind the scenes.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about trace numbers, from what they are to when and how to use them.

What is a Trace Number?

A trace number, sometimes called a tracking ID, reference number or transaction reference number, is a unique 15-digit number assigned to payments processed through the Automated Clearing House (ACH) network. The ACH network facilitates electronic payments and money transfers directly between banks. Any time an ACH transfer occurs — like a direct deposit, supplier payment, or customer payment via bank debit — it receives a trace number.

Trace numbers contain information about the transaction history and specifics of payments. They allow banks and account holders to trace the path of any ACH transfer to determine its status and uncover issues. If a vendor payment goes missing or a customer doesn’t receive your company's debit pull, the trace number provides visibility into the money flow.

Some key facts about ACH trace numbers:

  • Unique 15-digit reference number for every ACH transaction
  • Assigned to both credit and debit ACH transfers
  • Used to research and resolve payment issues
  • Provides transaction details like origin, destination routing numbers, account numbers, amount, date
  • Includes codes indicating payment type and class of transactions

Getting an ACH Trace Number

While trace numbers are automatically generated for ACH payments, accessing them involves some legwork. The process differs slightly depending on whether you originated or received the transaction.

For sent ACH payments like vendor direct deposits and customer debit transactions:

  • Check your online banking platform or business accounting software for details on money transfers. Platforms like QuickBooks link trace numbers to ACH transactions.
  • If the trace number isn’t readily available, contact your bank and provide payment details like date sent and transaction amount.
  • Your bank should be able to pull up the trace number associated with the transfer.

For received ACH payments like customer direct deposits:

  • First check bank account statements for trace numbers included in ACH credit details.
  • If not listed, contact your bank’s wire transfer department or account manager with specifics like expected deposit amount and date.
  • Ask to speak with a bank manager or specialist if frontline staff can’t locate the number.

When You Need an ACH Trace Number

Trace numbers allow account holders and banks to research what went wrong when ACH payments go awry. Here are three common scenarios where ACH trace numbers get put into action:

  • Missing payroll deposits. If employees don’t receive direct deposit payroll as scheduled, HR can use the trace number to uncover if the money left your company bank account and where it went astray.
  • Lost vendor payments. Trace numbers provide visibility into whether bulk ACH payments to suppliers actually left your finance department. Accounting can determine where electronic payments disappeared to by tracking transactions.
  • Unaccounted for customer payments. When customer bank debit payments don’t show up as expected, trace numbers allow you to confirm if the transfer occurred on schedule and reached the correct destination account.

How to Use an ACH Trace Number to Track Payments

With an ACH trace number in hand, you can start tracking down lost or delayed money transfers. Here are four steps to pinpoint the status of missing ACH payments:

Step 1: Identify the Bank Path

Submit the ACH trace number to your originating bank or receiving bank. This allows them to pull up the complete transaction history and audit trail of the transfer's journey between financial institutions.

Step 2: Verify Settlement

Banks can check if and when the ACH payment settled. Confirm when money left the originating bank and arrived at the destination bank account.

Step 3: Research Any Returns

If the payment shows as returned along the trail for insufficient funds or incorrect account details, the trace number trail provides visibility. Returns get initiated when money doesn’t end up in the right bank accounts.

Step 4: Investigate Errors

If there’s no evidence that the bank received the ACH transfer or if it veered off track and dead-ends, banks can investigate if errors occurred during payment processing. Issues on the bank processing side could be at play.

Throughout the tracking process, bank staff may ask for additional details about the associated accounts and entry descriptions to aid their research.

The Takeaway on Trace Numbers

Trace numbers offer visibility into payment problems and solutions for financial hiccups. When payroll doesn't post for employees or long-overdue customer invoices show no sign of arriving, these 15-digit codes provide answers.

While convoluted banking payment systems often present challenges in reconciling transfers behind the scenes, trace numbers shed light along the money trail. They serve as guides helping to smooth out the otherwise mysterious passageways traversed by electronic payments.

So whether ACH transfers originate from or get deposited into your company bank account, trace numbers should sit top of mind. Saving these transaction reference IDs provides immense value as a precautionary measure. And offers recourse when bumps inevitably arise on the road of financial exchanges between businesses.


Meow Technologies is a financial technology company, not a bank or FDIC-depository insured institution. Likewise, Meow Technologies is not an investment adviser and none of the information presented herein should be relied upon as financial advice or a recommendation to make any financial decision nor should it be considered to be tax or legal advice. The information is the opinion of Meow Technologies for educational purposes and may not be suitable for all companies. Products, like the one described herein, are offered through Meow Technologies and are not advisory services which are only offered through Meow Advisory, LLC.** The FDICs deposit insurance coverage only protects against the failure of an FDIC-insured bank.**

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