Although every home in the United States is equipped with a mailbox, many individuals, for a variety of reasons, choose to rent mailboxes in a separate location. Home business owners, for example, may choose to rent a private mailbox in a business district to maintain a commercial presence. Alternatively, others prefer the anonymity of a post office box. The advantages and disadvantages of both are often compared by consumers when determining whether to rent a private mail box or a United States Postal Service (USPS) box.


Perhaps the biggest different between a USPS post office box and a private mailbox is the cost associated with maintaining them. Although the individual price of a post office box varies depending on its size and the zip code in which it is located, rates typically range from $20 to $40 per year. Private mailboxes, however, tend to be much more expensive. It is not uncommon for consumers to spend well over $100 per year to rent them.


Although private mailboxes typically cost more to rent than post office boxes, they do offer an advantage. Customers of the USPS are able to receive mail that is sent through the USPS. The USPS will not, however, accept packages sent via private delivery services such as FedEx or UPS. In addition, some post offices will not accept large or oversized packages. Those who wish to receive large correspondence or those sent through private express-courier service must rent a private mailbox, where such deliveries will be accepted.


Unlike correspondence sent to a post office box, which is addressed to the specific post office, deliveries sent to private mailboxes are addressed to an actual street address. Although this difference may not matter to individuals who, for privacy reasons, simply want a mailbox separate for their homes, small business owners may prefer the professional image, and even status, conveyed by having a street address. For example, an accountant who works from a home office may add an air of prestige to his practice by selecting a private mailbox that comes with a Wall Street address.


A USPS post office box offers less flexibility that a private mailbox. Customers who rent post office boxes may only check them during postal business hours. Depending on where they are located, some private mailboxes are accessible 24 hours, seven days a week. Only a small number of USPS locations can boast this benefit. In addition, the only way to determine whether mail has been delivered to a post office box is by visiting the location and checking the box. Many private mailbox operators, on the other hand, allow customers to call in to check their mail, eliminating the need for wasted trips.