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The U.S. Postal Service processes approximately 509 million pieces of mail each day. Sending a letter without the proper postage can result in delivery delays, letters being returned to sender, or mail recipients having to pay the difference before they can claim their letters.
Postage stamp rates
The rates for postage stamps vary depending on the type of mail sent. There is a base rate for postage stamps, but additional postage may be necessary for heavier weights and non-standard sizes.
Stamp prices rose in 2017. The current rates are:
- First-class mail letters: 49 cents up to 1 ounce; each additional ounce is 21 cents.
- Postcard stamps: 34 cents
- International stamps: $1.15
The prices above are for standard-size, rectangular envelopes, which include most greeting card envelopes and letter-sized envelopes. First-class mail includes delivery in one to three days and insurance against loss or damage up to $5,000.
The postal service sells stamps on its website and at its post offices. Accepted forms of payment include cash, personal checks and debit and credit cards. Many major retailers also sell postage stamps.
Most stamps have the value printed directly on them to make it easy to affix the proper postage, typically one stamp per letter. However, when prices for stamps increase, users must affix additional postage.
In 2007, the U.S. Postal Service released the first non-denominational postage stamps, known as “Forever” stamps. Consumers buy these stamps at the current stamp price and can use them to mail first-class letters, even if postal rates go up.
Other types of stamps
While first-class and Forever stamps are by far the most common, they are not the only denominations available.
Make-up stamps are available in denominations of just a few cents. Those are most popular around the time of postage changes. Consumers use them to make up the difference between the old stamp price and the new rate, so they can use up the stamps they bought before the rate increase.
Stamps valued above the first-class rate have the added 21-cents-per-ounce factored into the price, for heavier envelopes or non-standard sizes.
Semi-postal stamps also cost more than first-class stamps but do not have greater value. Semi-postal stamps include a surcharge in order to raise money for a particular cause, such as breast cancer research or protection of endangered animals.
Stamped mail vs. metered mail
A postage meter allows people to weigh their envelopes and print their own postage in the correct amounts.
The rental fee for a postage meter is between $25 and $50 per month. Additionally, users must obtain a permit, which costs $200 and is valid for one year. Postage meters are beneficial for people and businesses that process a lot of mail, but they are not the cheapest way to send mail for the average user.
Getting it letter-perfect
Even though many people send letters and messages electronically these days, the Postal Service still delivers a lot of mail. Whether sending a birthday card or mailing a check for a bill, knowing the current stamp costs ensures that your mail arrives in a timely manner.