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Postal FAQ's
Direct Mail Q&A's
US Postal Q&A's
Zip+4 Lookup

Frequently Asked Questions About the USPS

Addressing Mail Properly

What are the proper STATE abbreviations?

AL.....Alabama                AK.....Alaska
AS.....American Samoa         AZ.....Arizona
AR.....Arkansas               CA.....California
CO.....Colorado               CT.....Connecticut
DE.....Delaware               DC.....District of Columbia
FL.....Florida                GA.....Georgia
GU.....Guam                   HI.....Hawaii
ID.....Idaho                  IL.....Illinois
IN.....Indiana                IA.....Iowa
KS.....Kansas                 KY.....Kentucky
LA.....Louisiana              ME.....Maine
MD.....Maryland               MA.....Massachusetts
MI.....Michigan               MN.....Minnesota
MS.....Mississippi            MO.....Missouri
MT.....Montana                NE.....Nebraska
NV.....Nevada                 NH.....New Hampshire
NJ.....New Jersey             NM.....New Mexico
NY.....New York               NC.....North Carolina
ND.....North Dakota           MP.....No. Mariana Islands
OH.....Ohio                   OK.....Oklahoma
OR.....Oregon                 PA.....Pennsylvania
PR.....Puerto Rico            RI.....Rhode Island
SC.....South Carolina         SD.....South Dakota
TN.....Tennessee              TX.....Texas
TT.....Trust Territory        UT.....Utah
VT.....Vermont                VI.....Virgin Islands US
VA.....Virginia               WA.....Washington
WV.....West Virginia          WI.....Wisconsin

What are the proper STREET abbreviations

Apartment.......APT    Avenue..........AVE
Boulevard.......BLVD   Center..........CTR
Circle..........CIR    Court...........CT
Drive...........DR     East............E
Expressway......EXPY   Heights.........HTS
Highway.........HWY    Island..........IS
Junction........JCT    Lake............LK
Lane............LN     Mountain........MTN
North...........N      Parkway.........PKY
Place...........PL     Plaza...........LZ
Road............RD     Room............RM
South...........S      Station.........STA
Street..........ST     Suite...........STE
Turnpike........TPKE   Valley..........VLY

What should be included in the return address?

bulletname on the top line
bulletstreet address, post office box number, or rural route number and box number on the next line
bulletcity, state, and ZIP Code or ZIP+4 code
bulletinclude 'USA' if mail is going to a foreign country

What should be included in the destination address?

bulletrecipient's name (and/or company name if applicable)
bulletrecipient's street address, post office box number, rural route number and box number, or highway contract route number
bulletinclude the following in the address line:
bulletAVE (Avenue)
bulletST (Street)
bulletDR (Drive)
bulletRD (Road)
bulletPL (Place)
bulletCIR (Circle)
bulletor other as appropriate
bulletN (North)
bulletS (South)
bulletE (East)
bulletW (West)
bulletRM (Room)
bulletSTE (Suite)
bulletAPT (Apartment)
bulletrecipient's city, state, and ZIP Code or ZIP+4 code if known

For international mail, include the city or town, provincial or state name. The applicable foreign postal code, if known, should go on the same line as, and in front of, the city or town name.

The country name, in capital letters, should be on the last line of the address for international mail only. Why should you use a ZIP+4 Code

The ZIP Code is extremely important in the processing and delivery of mail. While use of the ZIP Code is voluntary, the USPS urges you to include it in your return address and the mailing address.

In 1983, the Postal Service began use of an expanded ZIP Code called ZIP+4. It is composed of the original five-digit code plus a four-digit add-on. Use of the four-digit add-on number is voluntary.

However, this add-on number helps the Postal Service direct mail efficiently and accurately. Even if you prefer not to use your four-digit add-on number, use of the correct five-digit ZIP Code helps prevent delays.

The four-digit add-on number identifies a geographic segment within the five-digit delivery area such as a city block, an office building, an individual high-volume receiver of mail, or any other unit that would aid efficient mail sorting and delivery. Using the ZIP+4 code reduces the number of handlings and significantly decreases the potential for human error and the possibility of misdelivery. It also will lead to better control over postal costs and, in turn, postage rate stability.

ZIP+4 is intended for use primarily by business mailers who prepare their mail with typewritten, machine-printed, or computerized addressing formats that can be read by the Postal Service's automated scanners during processing. Mailers who qualify receive a rate discount on First Class nonpresorted ZIP+4 mailings of at least 250 pieces and on presorted ZIP+4 mailings of at least 500 pieces. There are also ZIP+4 discounts for bulk business mail.

What things should you NEVER do?

bulletIf you don't know the correct Zip Code NEVER guess.
bulletNEVER use string, scotch tape, or masking tape on parcels.
bulletNEVER mail odd shaped items (keys, pens, etc.) in a regular envelope.
bulletNEVER mail cash.

What things should you ALWAYS do?

bulletALWAYS put your return address on the mail.
bulletALWAYS place your name and address inside packages.
bulletUse corregated cardboard boxes for packages and seal them with filament or packaging tape.
bulletALWAYS use adequate padding, such as bubble wrap or styrofoam, to protect items in boxes. Paper does not provide adequate protection for fragile items.
bulletWhen mailing rolls of film, negatives or pictures, write your name and address on the item to protect against loss.
bulletSpecial endorsements should ALWAYS be placed near the delivery address to the right of the return address on all articles.

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Postal Facts

How much mail does the USPS handle?

According to the USPS, they handle...

bullet40% of all the world`s mail
bulletmore mail in one day than FedEx does in a year
bulletmore mail in three days than UPS does in a year
bullet177 BILLION pieces a year (580 million a day)

How big is the USPS?

According to the USPS...

bulletif they were a private company, they’d be the world`s 11th largest
bullettheir annual budget is equal to roughly 1% the US economy
bulletthey have a $3.2 billion transportation network:
bulletwith 200,000 vehicles
bulletwith over 2,700 natural gas vehicles
bulletthat contracts almost half of all commercial flights daily
bulletthey are the nation’s largest civilian employer
bulletone out of every 170 working Americans works for the USPS

How efficient is the USPS?

According to the USPS...

bulletToday’s self-supported USPS delivers nearly twice as much mail with just 10% more employees compared with the taxpayer subsidized Post Office Department in 1970.
bulletUSPS employees are 500% more productive than those in Germany
bulletUSPS employees are 250% more productive than those in France
bulletUSPS employees are 250% more productive than those in the UK
bulletUSPS employees are 33% more productive than those in Japan

How do US Postal rates compare with those abroad?

According to the USPS (as of 12/1/94)...

bulletThe US postal rates are the lowest in the industrialized world
bulletJapanese pay 80 cents for a First Class letter
bulletGermans pay 64 cents for a First Class letter

Back to contents for USPS Questions...

Types of Delivery

First Class

All First Class mail receives prompt handling and transportation. First Class mail is generally delivered overnight to locally designated cities and within 2 days to locally designated states. Delivery by the third day can be expected for remaining outlying areas.

Use First Class mail for letters, postcards, postal cards, greeting cards, personal notes, and for sending checks and money orders. Use Priority mail for First Class items weighing more than 11 ounces.

Second Class

Only publishers and registered news agents approved for Second Class mailing privileges may mail at the Second Class rates of postage. Other rates such as First Class, single-piece Third- or Fourth class must be paid for magazines and newspapers mailed by the general public. Call or visit your post office for additional information.

Third Class (Bulk)

Third-class mail is used primarily by retailers, catalogers, and other advertisers to promote their products and services. Advertising by mail allows advertisers to reach existing customers or to target new customers by sending messages to specific neighborhoods or to certain demographic groups that are likely to be interested in their products. It also allows the advertisers to convey a significant amount of information about their products and to measure the results of their advertisements.

Churches and other charitable organizations may take advantage of the attractive nonprofit rates for their large mailings. The minimum volume needed to take advantage of either the regular third-class rates or the nonprofit rates is 200 pieces per mailing. The pieces must weigh less than 16 ounces and be prepared in a manner that allows for efficient handling.

Third class also includes single-piece rates that anyone may use to send individual parcels weighing less than 1 pound. If faster service is needed, use First Class Mail, Priority Mail, or Express Mail.

Regular rate applies to circulars, books, catalogs, and other printed matter; merchandise, seeds, cuttings, bulbs, roots, scions, and plants, weighing less than 16 oz.

Fourth Class

Use this service for packages weighing 1 pound or more. If you enclose or attach First Class Mail, First Class postage must usually be paid for the enclosure or attachment. (Ask your postmaster about incidental First Class attachments or enclosures that do not require separate payment of First Class postage.) You can purchase insurance to cover the value of articles mailed at the fourth-class rate. Packages mailed within the continental United States may weigh up to 70 pounds and measure up to 108 inches in length and girth combined. Your post office also has information about lower local mailing rates and special mailing rates for books, catalogs, and international mailings.

The USPS delivery goal for parcel post is 2-9 days, depending on distance. For faster delivery of parcels, use Priority Mail or Express Mail.

If First Class Mail is enclosed or attached, First Class postage must be paid for the enclosure or attachment. (Call your local post office about incidental First Class attachments or enclosures that do not require separate payment of First Class postage.)

You can purchase insurance to cover the value of articles mailed at the fourth-class rate.

Maximum weight: 70 pounds.

Maximum measurements: 108 inches in length and girth combined.

Delivery goal for parcel post is seven days or less to most areas, depending on distance.

For faster delivery of parcels, use Priority Mail (not guaranteed) or Express Mail service (whenever there is a deadline involved).


Express Mail is the fastest USPS service. It offers guaranteed delivery service 365 days a year. The USPS also offers Express Mail International Service to over 200 territories and countries, and are the only company to offer APO/ FPO Express Mail shipments at domestic prices.

To use Express Mail Next Day Service, take your shipment to any designated Express Mail post office, generally by 5 p.m.; deposit it in an Express Mail collection box; call for on demand pickup; or hand it to your letter carrier. Your local post office can give you specific Express Mail acceptance times for your area.

Your mailing will be delivered to the addressee by noon the next day, if you are mailing between major markets, or no later than 3 p.m. the next day. Express Mail can also be picked up at the destination post office as early as 10 a.m. the next day. Destinations that can be reached by noon or 3 p.m. the next day from your city may be determined by using the Express Mail Next Day Service Network Directory. If you do not have a copy, ask your post office to check the destination for you, or call 1 -800-222-1811 for specific Express Mail network information.

Express Mail is convenient to use. There are more than 40,000 post offices and 26,000 Express Mail boxes in which you can deposit your shipments. Also, your letter carrier or rural route carrier can accept prepaid Express Mail when your mail is delivered. On-demand pickup service is available. Call 1-800-222-1811 to arrange a pickup.

The USPS will even supply you with mailing containers (envelopes, boxes, and tubes) and the necessary mailing labels at no additional charge.

Express Mail service comes with a money-back postage guarantee if the Postal Service does not meet its service commitment. To receive your refund, apply at any post office by presenting the original customer receipt. Also, by calling 1-800-222-1811 at any time, you can find out the delivery status of your shipment.

Merchandise is automatically insured up to $500 against loss or damage. Contact your local post office or your local Postal Service Consumer Affairs and Claims Office for more information.


Priority Mail is First Class Mail weighing more than 11 ounces. When the speed of Express Mail is not needed, but preferential handling is desired, use Priority Mail. Priority Mail offers faster delivery at the least expensive rate in the industry. You also have the option of sending mail weighing less than 11 ounces as Priority Mail. The maximum weight for Priority Mail is 70 pounds, and the maximum size is 108 inches in length and girth combined.

Priority Mail should be well identified. Your local post office will supply Priority Mail stickers, labels, envelopes, and boxes at no extra charge. A presort discount is available for large mailings.

Priority Mail drop shipment service is also available. Priority Mail can be insured, registered, certified, or sent COD for an additional charge. Contact your local post office for additional information.

Priority labels, envelopes, and stickers are available at the post office. Order supplies by calling 1-800-222-1811.

What is meant by 'Non-standard Surcharge'?

Nonstandard First Class Mail and Third Class Mail weighing 1 ounce or less is nonstandard if it exceeds any of the following size limits:

bullet6 1/8 inches in height
bullet1/2 inches in length
bullet1/4 inches in thickness
bulletAspect ratio (length divided by height) does not fall between 1 to 1.3 and 1 to 2.5, inclusive

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Reaching the USPS


US Postal Service
475 L`Enfant Plaza SW
Washington, DC 20260-2200
(202) 268-2000

Or the Postal Service Web site

Complaints & Suggestions

When you have a problem with your mail service or would like to make a suggestion, you can complete a Consumer Service Card, available from letter carriers and at post offices. This helps your postmaster respond to your problem. You can also advise the postmaster of a problem by calling your local post office.

You can also contact the Postal Service Consumer Affairs and Claims office in your area to help solve problems or obtain information your local postmaster may be unable to help you with. The telephone number for your local Consumer Affairs and Claims Office is listed in the phone book with other Postal Service telephone numbers.

The Consumer Advocate represents consumers to the top management level in the Postal Service. If your problem cannot be solved by your local post office or Consumer Affairs and Claims Office, write the Consumer Advocate at:

Consumer Advocate
US Postal Service
475 L`Enfant Plaza SW
Room 5821
Washington, DC 20260-2200

Inquiries - Domestic Mail

You may inquire about domestic mail at any post office. Form 1000, Domestic Claim or Registered Mail Inquiry, is used to report lost or damaged mail that was insured, registered, or sent by Express Mail. Form 1510, Mail Loss/ Rifling Report ,is used for ordinary and certified mail. Your local post office can help you decide when it is appropriate to file a report and assist you in completing these forms.

Inquiries - Internationl Mail

You may inquire about international mail at any post office. The US sender may inquire about any class of mail; in addition the US addressee may inquire about ordinary, insured, or registered articles. If the inquiry results in the filing of an indemnity claim, only the US sender may submit a claim.

When inquiring about any type of international mail, except Express Mail International Service, you must complete Form 542, Inquiry About a Registered Article or an Insured Parcel or an Ordinary Parcel For Express Mail, contact the local Express Mail manager for assistance in completing Form 2861, Express Mail International Service Inquiry. Each inquiry requires a small fee that is reimbursed if a claim is paid. If the article was sent by Express Mail or a paid-for return receipt was not received, the fee is waived.

Mail Fraud

You can save time and money by ordering merchandise and conducting business through the mail. However, if you are not aware of a company's reputation, check with the Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, or state or local consumer protection office before placing an order. If you later experience difficulty with the company or suspect that you have been the victim of fraud, contact your local postmaster, Consumer Affairs and Claims Office, or postal inspector, or write to one of the following:

Chief Postal Inspector
US Postal Service
475 L`Enfant Plaza SW
RM 3021
Washington DC 20260-2100

Information pamphlets on mail fraud are available at your local post office.

The Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement and investigative arm of the Postal Service. You can report postal crimes such as mail theft. drugs in the mail, or mail fraud to the local postmaster or nearest office of the postal inspector. You can also use the Postal Crime Hotline 1-800-654-8896 to report these or other postal crimes directly to the inspection Service.

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