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Postage rate increase, Forever stamps


[Updated in 2008: It turns out that I was wrong about how Forever Stamps work. I apologize for the misinformation. For updated/correct information, see my new entry. Leaving this entry intact for historical purposes, but don't believe anything that I wrote below about the Forever Stamps.]


For anyone who missed it: US postal rates have just gone up. The first ounce for a first-class letter now costs 41¢; other rates now depend as much on the size and shape of what you're mailing as on the number of ounces, primarily (I gather) because they want to encourage people to send mail that can be processed automatically rather than mail that needs to be processed by hand.

Most especially, writers and editors should take careful note of the fact that a manuscript-size manila envelope now costs 80¢ for the first ounce, and 17¢ for each ounce after that. A single first-class stamp is no longer sufficient for mailing a one-ounce manuscript.

Which is too bad, because the USPS has also introduced (last month, I think) a new kind of first-class stamp called the Forever stamp that will be good for mailing a one-ounce first-class letter (in a #10 envelope, not a bigger envelope) forever. When I first heard about this, I had figured that when this stamp came out, I would buy hundreds of them and would never need to buy stamps again; but in fact as far as I can tell there's no need to stockpile them yet, because the plan is to keep producing them. So when the next rate hike is announced, before it actually happens, you can buy a bunch of Forever stamps. The USPS's expectation is that people will buy Forever stamps at that point to ease the transition to the new rate (we all should've done this last week), so nobody will have to buy a bunch of 1¢ and 2¢ stamps to cover the difference between old rate and new rate; but of course you can also buy a whole bunch of Forever stamps to avoid having to deal with the next several rate increases.

But again, the Forever stamp appears to be good only for the first ounce of a first-class letter. I send so few of those these days (usually paying occasional paper bills) that I'm not sure it's worth it to me to buy a bunch of those stamps at this point. (I'm not sure whether you can use a Forever stamp for the first n¢ of postage on a non-first-class piece of mail.)


Your last comment is a darn good question. Besides the fact that the forever stamp comes with a set of new rules, there is a good question on what it is worth when slapped on non-domestic or non-First-Class mail. Will it take the prevailing value? I think it probably will.

I just talked with the head of the Swat post office, and here's the (confusing) scoop:

From now until the next rate change, a Forever Stamp is worth $0.41 anywhere--on a first-class one-ounce letter (where that's the entire postage), on a first-class two-ounce letter (where you need an additional $0.17), as any part of an $0.80 flat envelope (and you can use multiple Forever Stamps, each worth $0.41, along with any other stamps at their face value).

At the next rate change, a Forever Stamp which was purchased while first-class postage was $0.41 can ONLY be used for a first-class one-ounce letter (where the Forever Stamp is the entire postage at whatever the new rate is); this is true forever. BUT you cannot use a "$0.41 Forever Stamp" anywhere else--not in combination with any other stamp for anything, even as the first stamp on a first-class two-ounce letter.

There will be a new Forever Stamp design available for the new rate, and that stamp CAN be used anywhere for the new rate's value.

This is ridiculously complicated!

Plus, I have almost no use for Forever Stamps: I pay all my bills online, and I can write electronic checks through my online bank (ING) which get mailed as paper checks for free by the bank. I'm guessing this is true for a lot of people--I used to need 60 first-class stamps per year for monthly bills, and now I need zero.

I guess there are always Christmas cards, though, and I do like to keep one book of stamps in my wallet at all times, just in case I need to write someone a letter. (Yes, I've had to write some emergency letters in the past year! Well, okay, they weren't strictly necessary, but it seemed like the right thing to do, to send impromptu letters to Fin's parents on short-notice occasions.)

I just learned about the size-and-shape thing this morning--it's going to have a significant impact on how I handle SH contracts. gah. Currently we send contracts in catalog-size envelopes. Our choices now are either fold them up and send them in letter-size envelopes (causing non-trivial hassle on my end) or keep sending them in the larger envelopes but pay nearly twice as much in postage.

So it sounds like the "Forever Stamp" is, in fact, a stamp, bought (and permanently worth) the current stamp price.

Megan: As I understand it, according to what Wayman wrote above, it's a little bit more complicated than that. A Forever stamp will be worth more money in the future, but only if it's used on a one-ounce first-class letter.

Say you buy a Forever stamp today, for 41¢. Say ten years from now, a one-ounce letter requires a $10 stamp. You'll still be able to use that Forever stamp as full postage on that letter, so at that point the Forever stamp is worth $10. But you won't be able to use that 41¢ Forever stamp in any context other than as the only stamp on a one-ounce letter.

(But in fact, going by historical trends, ten years from now a one-ounce letter will probably require only a 50¢ stamp.)

The way to think about the Forever stamp is that they are not $0.41 in postage, but they are one-ounce-letter in postage, and they currently cost forty-one cents to buy. They will (grudgingly, I assume) accept certain Forever stamps as $0.41 in postage, but only for now. It would be simpler, as Wayman says, if they didn't, but people would have been cranky either way. Do not buy the Forever stamps thinking they are $0.41 in postage, though. Only buy them if you mail one-ounce letters. There are plenty of other ways to buy $0.41 in postage, all of which will be accepted. The only advantage to having Forever stamps is that if you stick them in your wallet and forget about them for five years, you can still use them on short letters.

I know nobody here has been cranky about the increase, and in fact I haven't heard a lot of crankiness about the increase in general, but I'll point out anyway that even with the 60 bills a year that Wayman used to mail, the increase comes to a dollar and change. There are some problems with the rate increase (the size increase, and some other commercial stuff), but for bills and shortish letters, it's not a big deal.

The thing postage that I like to keep in my wallet is postcard stamps, because when I want to send a postcard, I want to grab it and send it as quick as I can. Those have gone up to $0.26, so my $0.23 go with my $0.21 as stamps to use up sometime. I'd buy a book of Forever postcard stamps, that I would.

Also, am I wrong or did two-ounce letters actually get cheaper?


I know this is an ancient thread, but regarding the stamps use only on 1 ounce letters, I emailed the USPS...

1. Can the Forever stamp be used on non-1 ounce, first class mail after May 12...

Response (Peggy F) 05/01/2008 03:41 AM

Thank you for contacting us about the use of the Forever Stamp on other just 1 ounce letters.

Yes, you can use the Forever Stamps on other mailings. If you have a 3 ounce letter, you can put 1 Forever stamp and two $0.17 stamps with it. Or you can just put two Forever stamps on the letter.

If I can be of assistance to you in the future, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Thank you for choosing the United States Postal Service®.


Peggy F

As the USPS stated when the Forever Stamp was introduced:

"Any nondenominated stamps (except for those that bear unique markings, such as First-Class Presort, Nonprofit Org.) may be affixed to items that are sent to foreign countries. The postage value of such stamps is linked to its appropriate domestic rate (e.g., the Lady Liberty and U.S. Flag stamp has a postage value of 39 cents). The postage value of the Forever Stamp is always the domestic First-Class Mail single-piece 1-ounce letter rate that is in effect on the day of use. Since the international postage rates are always higher than the comparable domestic rates, additional postage would have to be affixed."

In practice, there is likely to be plenty of confusion about this among postal clerks, as there is about many postal rules. But in theory, you could buy 10 Forever Stamps today for $4.10, and use them on May 12 for $4.20 worth of postage towards anything you mail. You could save 2.5% that way. (I'm expecting to be spending over $2500 on postage immediately after the rate increase, and 2.5% would be a nice dinner out. But it's easier to just use the postage meter.)

Thanks, Daniel. I'm a little hesitant to believe that, though, because it contradicts what I've read in several other contexts. I wish there were some definitive source of info about this--I suspect that many USPS employees are confused and/or wrong about it (certainly we've now heard contradictory information from two of them), so I'm not sure who to believe.

Thanks, Michael. But the bit you quoted doesn't say anything about what a forever stamp can and can't be used on. It just says that a forever stamp can be used on international mail.

The DMM has this to say about forever stamps:

604.1.10: Additional Standards for Forever Stamps. Forever stamps are sold for the price of the current First-Class Mail single-piece 1-ounce letter rate in 133.1.4. The postage value of each forever stamp is the current First-Class Mail single-piece 1-ounce letter rate. Forever stamps may be used only on single-piece rate mail.

Apparently "single-piece rate mail" means "mail sent at the single-piece rate." But that, too, doesn't tell us whether there are limitations on (a) how many forever stamps you can use on one piece of mail, or (b) whether you can use forever stamps at all on anything other than a #10 envelope.

After some further research: It turns out I was misinformed about Forever Stamps. You can use them on heavier than one-ounce letters and packages, and you can use multiple Forever Stamps on a single item.

I apologize for misleading everyone.

For more info, see my new entry.

If you're looking for a definitive source of info for anything to do with the post office, first go to the current DMM or IMM. If you can find a clear statement in there, you can rely on it and you can usually convince a postal clerk to rely on it. Marketing pieces are not authoritative the way that the DMM and IMM are. Other than something you can quickly point to in the DMM or IMM, a postal clerk will generally listen to their supervisor and manager, then to their local postmaster, then to their regional postmaster. At the regional level, there is also a mailing standards office which can assist with interpretation of rules, but it can be difficult to persuade a clerk or supervisor to pay any attention to the mailing standards office.

On a practical level, you're usually stuck with whatever a clerk says. If you don't like their answer, try a different clerk. But if you have a regional variation from the correct rules, such as when my area decided that Global Priority envelopes were no longer usable, you're best off playing along to make sure your mail actually goes through. It's a matter of figuring out what things are checked at the counter vs what things are checked further along the way.

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