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Intelligent Mail Barcoding and CASS Certification

The USPS has phased out the older style of barcodes, known as "Postnet barcodes", and replaced them with new "Intelligent Mail Barcodes" (IMBs).

Mail Barcoding and CASS Certification

Bulk mail that has barcodes can be eligible for a lower postage rate than non-barcoded bulk mail. The amount of additional savings for barcoding is small, per piece, but can add up if you have a large mailing. You are never required to barcode your mail to get bulk mail discounts. Most of the savings for using bulk mail comes from the discounts USPS gives you for sorting your mail for them.

While there is an additional postage discount for barcoding, there are also some additional costs. For example, before barcoding your mail, you must first "CASS-certify" your mailing list, which has some cost. (More on this below.) Mailers with larger quantities of bulk mail (more than, say, 3,000 pieces per mailing) usually can save by barcoding. For smaller quantities, barcoding may cost more than it saves, since the discounts for barcoding are small (often less than a penny per piece).

Even with all the pending new requirements for barcoded mail, bulk mailers will still not be required to use barcodes at all. The new requirements only apply to those are barcoding. Whether or not to barcode will still be up to each mailer. By the way, if you are just sending some letters and are not using bulk mail or another type of presorted mail, there are no savings from barcoding.

How much do I save if I add barcodes?

Most of the savings in bulk mailing comes from sorting. Barcoding typically reduces your postage cost by anywhere from 0.8¢ to 2.9¢ per piece below non-barcoded bulk rates. The largest barcoding savings are for mailings that have more than 150 pieces going to the same 5-digit zip code, with smaller savings for mailings that are scattered among many zip codes without 150 pieces to any one of them.

For a typical one-ounce letter, card, tri-fold, etc., here are the postage prices you can expect:

Regular First Class stamped mail: 49¢
Regular First Class metered mail: 48¢

Standard letter-sized bulk mail - sorted - no barcodes:
24.6¢ to 30.9¢
Standard letter-sized bulk mail - sorted - barcoded:
21.7¢ to 30.1¢

Standard letter-sized bulk mail - sorted - no barcodes - nonprofit:
12.8¢ to 19.1¢
Standard letter-sized bulk mail - sorted - barcoded - nonprofit:
9.9¢ to 18.3¢

Because the discount categories for barcoded mail are different from those for non-barcoded mail, an address that gets the best non-barcoded price will often not get the best barcoded price. This means the savings for a barcoded mailing will often not be as large as the differences in postage categories would seem to indicate.

Here's what you need to get barcoding discounts:

To get the barcoded prices, you must do everything you need to do for regular bulk mail prices, plus the following:

  • Get a "mailer ID" from USPS, as described above. To get a mailer ID, start here.

  • CASS-certify your list. CASS-certification is a specific way to make sure you have the most recent zip+4 codes and delivery-point codes, as required for barcoding. (Click here to jump down to more information on CASS-certification.) You don't need to do this every time you prepare a barcoded mailing, but every address in a barcoded mailing must have been CASS-certified within the previous six months.

  • If you are using labels for your addressing, you'll need labels wide enough for the barcodes to fit. Barcodes are anywhere from 2.7" to 3.25" wide, depending on your software and printer. Plus, the USPS requires that there be at least 1/8" between the barcode and the left and right edges of the label. That means that labels that are 3-across on a standard-size sheet won't work! Make sure your labels are at least 3 1/2" wide to allow for variations in software, printers, and alignment.

  • You'll need software to create the barcodes. Our barcoding software, called Smart Barcoder, is only $35. If you buy the Pro version of our Postage $aver bulk mail sorting software, we'll give you Smart Barcoder free as part of the package.
    Beware: the barcode that older versions of Microsoft Word automatically creates is not the barcode you need for bulk mailing discounts! If you have a version of Word that offers a USPS barcoding feature, turn it off!

  • In addition to software, you need a barcode font to print the barcodes. When you print a barcode on an envelope or label, what you are really doing is printing a string of letters using a special font that prints each letter as a bar.

  • Make sure the sorting software you are using can handle barcoded bulk mail. Bulk mail that is barcoded goes to different postal sorting centers than non-barcoded bulk mail. If you are using sorting software to prepare your mailing (and we strongly recommend that you do), make sure it can handle barcoded mail. Postage $aver Pro handles barcoded mail, but Postage $aver Lite does not.

Preparing your mail when using barcodes:

In general, you follow the same procedure for barcoded bulk mail as you would for non-barcoded bulk mail, except:

  • You must print the barcodes on your mail per USPS rules (obviously). There are only certain places on your mail where the barcode can go. You must always use black ink for the barcodes, and you must not make them larger or smaller than their required size. Here is a USPS guide for where to put barcodes on letter-sized or postcard-sized mail. Here is a guide for where to put barcodes on flat-sized mail.

  • Folded mail or booklets that are sent without an envelope must also meet USPS sealing requirements in order to earn barcoding discounts. Here is a USPS guide to tabbing and sealing such pieces.

  • The sorting combinations for barcoded mail are different than those for non-barcoded mail. You must sort your mail according to the rules for barcoded pieces, which may be different from the rules you are used to following for non-barcoded mail. If you are using PAVE-certified sorting software like Postage $aver, it will automatically take any differences into account when it sorts your mail.

  • For full-service IMBs, you are required to submit your postal paperwork electronically. For most mailings of fewer than 10,000 pieces, all of the same weight, the mailer can use the USPS "Postal Wizard" web page to submit paperwork electronically. Full-service IMB mailings of more than 10,000 pieces require software that can submit paperwork files in special USPS data formats, called "Mail.dat" and "Mail.xml".

  • For basic-service IMBs, electronic submission is not required. Currently, mailers can still use basic-service IMBs and submit paper forms, as usual. However, USPS plans to eliminate basic-service IMBs, so all barcoded mailings will need electronically-submitted paperwork using one of the methods mentioned above. The deadline for this change was set for January, 2014, but has been postponed until at least 2015. We will post the new deadline when it is announced by USPS.

What is CASS certification and why do I need it?

CASS certification is the process of matching your address list to the USPS master list of zip+4 codes. This makes sure you have the latest zip+4 codes, which can change when postal delivery routes change. Also, the master list provides an extra two digits, called a "delivery point code", that is necessary to create an accurate barcode. There's no point in adding a barcode if it's wrong, so USPS will allow you to take discounts for barcoding ONLY if you can show that your list was CASS-certified during the previous 6 months. For small mailers, it's generally not practical to CASS-certify your own lists in house, since the software to do this ("Cass-certified software") typically costs $500-$1000 per year. It's expensive because it must include the USPS file of all streets and zip+4 codes, which has around 30 million entries and must be updated every two months. It's not something you want to have to pay for and maintain if you are only doing small or occasional mailings. A better option, for most small mailers, is to use one of the service companies that will certify your list for you. For a small list, they typically charge around $30. Here are some companies that our customers use: Listcleanup.com,Lorton Data.
You send them your list through the Internet. They run your list through their matching software, and then return the certified list to you through the Internet along with the required CASS report. Most of these companies can also provide NCOA move-update service with CASS-certification included, so you can do both steps at the same time. (NCOA is required for bulk mailings if you are not using "OR CURRENT RESIDENT" on your addresses or tracking your forwarding addresses in house. For more information on NCOA, see our move update help page.)

Remember, you generally don't need CASS certification unless you are barcoding, which is not required for bulk mail discounts!

Despite what you might have heard, you generally do NOT need CASS certification for bulk mailing if you are not barcoding. Most of the savings from bulk mailing comes from sorting, not from barcoding. If you don't barcode, you don't even need 9-digit zip codes for bulk mailing, so you do not need CASS certification.

The other time when you would need CASS certification is if you were sending a "carrier route" mailing, which is generally only if you are mailing to every house or business on a mail carrier's route. This type of mailing needs special sorting, and CASS certification must be done to make sure your list has current mail route information. Most mailers do not do carrier route mailings.