Whether you're mailing a marketing brochure, contract or financial documents, there are times when your business needs verification that you sent an item or that the person to whom you sent it actually received it. Certified Mail and a Certificate of Mailing are both add-on services for items you send through regular postal mail, but they differ in their purpose. While Certified Mail will both provide a mailing record and prove the receiver got the item, a Certificate of Mailing only shows that you really mailed it. Knowing the costs, benefits and limitations of these services will help you choose the right one for your business mail.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The basic difference is that Certified Mail is an option that shows both proof of mailing and delivery, while a Certificate of Mailing only shows proof of mailing.
How Certified Mail Works
Certified Mail is an add-on service for USPS shipments that will provide you with proof that a mail carrier either successfully delivered your shipment or at least attempted to do so. It's compatible with any First Class or Priority Mail letter or parcel that you ship domestically, but it is not available for international shipments. Further, insurance is not an option for mail sent with this service. As of May 2019, you'll pay $3.50 on top of regular postage costs for Certified Mail.
Any Certified Mail parcel has a tracking number so you can see when it reaches and departs each location along the route to the destination. As long as you visit a post office physically, you also receive a postmarked mailing record that serves as helpful documentation for your company, especially if you're sending a document subject to legal requirements. The post office also keeps records of your shipment for two years.
By default, you'll receive an electronic verification upon delivery or attempted delivery, but you can purchase a Return Receipt – which costs $2.80 for a paper copy or $1.60 for electronic – if you need written evidence or want to see the recipient's signature electronically. You can also add a restricted delivery service to your Certified Mail package and require a signature – either of an adult over 21 or the specified individual – if necessary.
Certificate of Mailing Basics
Rather than showing the package was successfully delivered, a Certificate of Mailing serves to verify that you actually sent your letter or package and when you did so. This inexpensive option costs $1.45 as of May 2019 and works with both international and domestic shipments. It is compatible with more mail options than Certified Mail, including First Class Mail, Priority Mail, Media Mail and USPS Retail Ground.
Unlike with Certified Mail, you can also purchase insurance, but a Return Receipt is not an option. As long as you didn't use postal stamps and you have a USPS tracking number, though, you'll be able to track your shipment through the USPS website or by phone as normal. This will allow you to see when the item gets delivered and any problems that may occur along the way.
This mailing option requires physically visiting a post office, where you'll be presented with a physical certificate when you give your package to the postal employee. This form will vary depending on the number of items in your shipment. It will have the sender's and recipient's addresses and be postmarked with the date and time of mailing. This will serve as proof in case the recipient claims you didn't send the mail or didn't send it in time.
Which Should Your Business Use?
Since Certified Mail is more secure with it being more likely that your package gets in the right hands, your business might choose this service when you're mailing something confidential but not of high value. For example, Certified Mail would be a suitable option to mail a business contract, financial reports, business check or other legal documents, but the lack of insurance makes it unsuitable for physical valuables. Financial Statement Services also suggests that Certified Mail is a good choice when you want your mail to look official to the recipient and encourage him to open the letter or package quicker.
If you want to save money, need to mail something less confidential and only really need proof that your business sent a document, a Certificate of Mailing can be a good alternative. Since insurance is an option, this option works when you send something of value but don't need a signature from the recipient.
In some cases, your business might need to send something both highly confidential and of high value. Another option called Registered Mail might be suitable for that case since it has a highly secure mailing process, allows for insurance and requires a signature.
- Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Tim Morgan