When sending an important letter or document through the mail, you probably want confirmation that your item reached its destination. The United States Postal Service (USPS) offers several different options for tracking letters and packages. You'll pay a fee over and above actual postage costs, but you'll have proof that delivery was made or attempted.
The Cost of Postage
As of January 2020, the cost to send a letter domestically First Class is 55 cents for a standard-sized rectangular envelope weighing up to one ounce. Standard-sized postcards cost 35 cents, while oversized postcards are priced at 55 cents, the same as a letter. Square, oversized or odd-sized envelopes, such as those that come with some greeting cards, are priced starting at 70 cents for the first ounce. They're not machine-readable, so you have to pay for the extra cost of manual processing.
Maximum Mailing Weights for First Class
The maximum weight for a First Class letter is 3.5 ounces. For large envelopes (called "flats") or parcels, the maximum weight is 13 ounces. Letters, flats and parcels cost 55 cents for the first ounce and an additional 15 cents per ounce or fraction of an ounce. For example, a three-ounce letter would cost 85 cents to mail First Class ($0.55 + $0.15 + $0.15). A thirteen-ounce flat would cost $2.35 for First Class ($0.55 for the first ounce and $1.80 for the additional 12 ounces).
USPS Letter Tracking
The USPS cannot track your mail without a tracking number. With the following options, you'll get a unique number assigned to your mail piece at the time of mailing that will allow you to track using USPS postage tracking. USPS tracking statuses are available online. Simply type your tracking number in the space provided on the USPS tracking website.
Priority Mail: Tracking and delivery within one to three business days. A Priority Flat Rate envelope costs $7.75 (or $8.05 for legal size) no matter the weight or destination.
Certified Mail: Provides proof that the item was mailed at the time of mailing. Certified mail costs $3.35 in addition to postage. If you want to receive confirmation of delivery or a delivery attempt, it's another $2.75 for a mailed receipt or $1.45 for an electronic receipt.
Registered Mail: Requires a signature upon delivery. If someone is not available to sign for the mail piece, it will be held at the post office for pickup by the intended recipient. Registered mail starts at $12.40 and increases according to weight, destination and declared value of the item.
Registered Mail Restricted Delivery: The most secure service offered by the USPS. As with registered mail, a signature is required upon delivery or the item will be held at the post office for pickup. The sender can direct that delivery be made only to the addressee or the addressee's agent. The fee for Registered Mail Restricted Delivery is $5.20 in addition to the cost for Certified or Registered mail. Delivery times for Registered and Registered Mail Restricted Delivery average 10 to 14 days because of the extra time needed for security and manual processing.
If Your Mail Is Lost
Each day, the USPS processes and delivers approximately 187.8 million pieces of First Class mail alone. With the sheer volume of letters and packages traveling across the country, it's inevitable that a mail piece is occasionally misdirected or lost.
If a mail piece has been late or missing for seven days or more (at least 14 days for Registered Mail), contact the USPS directly by phoning your local post office or calling the Consumer Affairs office at 1-800-275-8777. The USPS will conduct a search, although it cannot guarantee the missing item will be located.
To file a missing mail search request, you will need to provide the following information:
- Sender and recipient addresses
- Date of mailing
- Tracking number
- Description of the mailpiece (such as 9x12 brown envelope)
- Detailed description of the contents
Denise Dayton, M.S., M.Ed. is a freelance writer specializing in careers, education and technology. In addition to writing for corporate clients, she has published articles in Library Journal and The Searcher.