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Getting Started with Postal Bulk Mail

Summer is the hottest season for real estate so if you’re thinking of listing soon, spring is your last opportunity to make those home improvements.

Getting Started with Postal Bulk Mail

Bulk mail is a way to save money on postage by doing things that save the US Postal Service (USPS) money. They pass some of the savings along to you by charging you lower postage prices.

The most common type of bulk mail is called "Standard Class". (It used to be called "3rd Class".) Most advertising mail, newsletters, etc. are sent using Standard Class.

To use Standard Class, your pieces must be essentially identical, without any personal information. That means you can't scribble notes to your friends on various pieces. It also means you can not send invoices, statements, and other individual information using Standard Class. However, you may send form letters on which you personalize the name and address, so long as the rest of the letter is the same for everyone. If you send more than 500 invoices, statements, or similar mail at one time, you can get a small postage discount by using presorted First Class Mail.

Big savings with the least hassle - Sorting your mail:

You can earn most of the postage savings available by simply sorting your mail according to USPS bulk mail regulations. That will get you to the discounts discussed above.

Here's what you need:

  • A permit to mail at Standard Class prices. It lasts a year, and costs $220. You can use it as many times during that year as you want.

  • A permit imprint account number. This lets you print a bulk price postage box (called an "indicia") on your mail, instead of putting a stamp on each piece. The post office will set up an account for you to deposit your postage payments prior to mailing. There is a one-time charge of $220. It is automatically renewed at no extra charge when you renew your permit.

  • At least 200 pieces or 50 pounds of identical mail (whichever is less). You must mail that many pieces at one time to use Standard Class.

  • Mail trays or mail sacks (depending on the size of your mail) and various other mailing supplies. These are provided by the USPS at no charge. You can pick up a bunch when you go to buy your permit.

  • A FREE short course on preparing bulk mail, at the some major post offices. Many post offices appear to have stopped offering these classes, but they are helpful if you can find one. Optional but well worth it.

  • Your mailing list on a computer, in database software (like Access, Act!, dBase, Excel, etc.), mailing list software (like ChurchWindows), or in a standard database format. You'll never get this right doing it from pre-printed labels, a word processor label list, or index cards.

  • USPS "Pave-approved" sorting software. You can try to learn all the confusing rules yourself, and then keep up with the changes, or you can let a software company do it for you. We recommend our Postage $aver product. It's easy to use and will print step-by-step instructions to walk you through preparing every mailing. The Lite version, which does everything you need for non-barcoded mail, is only $29.50 and includes free updates for a year. Optional but well worth it.

What to do to get the discounts:

  • Before actually sorting your mail, you must decide how you will comply with the USPS "move update" requirement, which now applies to all bulk mailings. This means you must make sure that each person or company on your mailing list hasn't moved to a new address, or you must give USPS permission to deliver the piece as addressed regardless of whether the name is still correct.

  • Sort your mailing list according the USPS rules. This is NOT simply sorting it in zip code order. In fact, sometimes you keep a whole zip code together, sometimes you put it with other zip codes, and sometimes you have to split it into different parts. (That's why we recommended you use USPS-approved sorting software. It does the thinking for you.)

  • Print out your labels or envelopes in this sorted order.

  • Large pieces of mail and those with irregular shapes need to be rubber-banded together into "bundles". (Normal sized letters and cards no longer are prepared in bundles.) A bundle is simply a stack of mail (no more than 6" thick") held together by rubber bands. You put a little sticker on the top piece of each stack to show what kind of bundle it is. For example, a bundle where all the zip codes have the same first three digits gets a little "3" sticker. Or, instead of the stickers, you can print an "optional endorsement line" on each piece above the address. That line looks like "*******3D 780". If you use Postage $aver, it will tell you whether you need to bundle your mail, what bundles to make and what stickers or endorsement lines to put on.

  • Next, put the mail in trays, if you are mailing letter-sized mail, or in sacks, if you are mailing larger pieces. Each tray or sack consists of mail that will go to a specific sorting facility and must be labeled using a very specific format. Postage $aver tells you what mail (or bundles of mail) go in what trays or sacks, and creates the tray or sack tags.

  • When you have it all done, then load it all in the car and take it to the post office. You cannot drop Standard Class mail in the nearest mailbox. Your best bet is to take it to the main post office in your area that actually processes Standard Class mail. They have postal clerks there who specialize in bulk mail, and who may catch any problems with your mailing while you are still there at the post office.