First-Class Letter Postage

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November 21, 2023

For centuries, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has been a cornerstone of mail delivery services, offering various options to suit Americans’ diverse and ever-changing mailing needs.

Over the years, many USPS shipping options have come and gone to meet the demands of an evolving world, from budget-friendly USPS Regional Rate Boxes, which have been discontinued, to speedy solutions like USPS Retail Ground.

However, amidst these shifts, one Postal Service offering has held its ground since its inception in 1863: First-Class Mail, the go-to choice for individuals and businesses sending letters, postcards, and other lightweight mail items.

While the balance of cost-effectiveness and timely deliveries are significant factors for First-Class Mail’s premier status, another component is its postage prices.

This article explores the U.S. Mail service’s First-Class Mail, its history, characteristics, and the role of postage stamps in helping the service continue to be the most competitive USPS offering.

Contact a Postal Service representative at your local post office for additional information about First-Class Mail and postage prices. Visit FindPostOffice.org to find your area’s most convenient USPS facilities. 

What Is the Postage for First-Class Mail?

First-Class Mail is a popular USPS (United States Postal Service or the U.S. Mail service) option that allows you to send letters, postcards, and other small parcels under 13oz quickly and affordably to domestic and international addresses.

It offers one- to five-business-day delivery and uses First-Class Mail One-Ounce Price Forever stamps for postage. These stamps are designed to maintain their value even if postage rates increase in the future.

In other words, if you purchase a Forever stamp at its September 2023 price of $0.66, it will still be valid for mailing a letter or postcard 10, 30, or even 50 years from now, even if postage rates have gone up then. Hence, forever.

First Class – Everything You Need to Know

Whether you’re an individual sending a letter to a friend or a business fulfilling high-volume orders for your customers, USPS First Class Mail and First-Class Package services are excellent shipping options. Let’s break down why that is.

First, the USPS First-Class mailing options offer relatively quick shipping: next-day up to five business-day delivery for domestic mail items. Although shipping times for First-Class international mail and packages vary by destination, they generally take between 7 and 21 days.

Next, First-Class Mail is economical, with the U.S. Postal Service boasting it as its most competitively priced service for mailpieces weighing up to 13oz. Domestic and international First-Class shipping prices start at $0.51 and $3.00, respectively, as of September 2023.

Finally, USPS’ First-Class options are eligible for additional services, from enabling you to track your parcel’s progress throughout its journey to insuring it from damage or loss.

Here are USPS special services available for your First-Class mail items:

Standard Shipping InsuranceCertificate of Mailing
USPS Tracking and Tracking PlusRegistered Mail
Certified MailAdult Signature Required and Adult Signature Restricted Delivery
Return ReceiptCollect on Delivery

Unfortunately, these benefits don’t come for free. First-Class Mail has strict guidelines regarding what items you can send and how to ship them.

 For instance, First-Class Mail letters must be under 3.5oz. The maximum weight is 13oz for domestic First-Class mailpieces, such as large envelopes. The weight limit for international mail is 15.99oz.

Other restrictions may apply depending on what you’re shipping through USPS’ First-Class services. For additional information, visit the USPS website at USPS.com or your local post office. Find your area’s U.S. Postal Service locations using FindPostOffice.org’s facility finder tool.

Summary of Features for First-Class Mail

Before we dive further into USPS rates and other details regarding its First-Class mail delivery options, let’s summarize their features:

  • The delivery time for domestic mail is one to five business days, while 7 to 21 days for international parcels.
  • The postal rate for domestic First-Class delivery begins at $0.51 and $3.00 for First-Class International as of September 2023.
  • Option to add extra services like Signature Confirmation, Return Receipt, and USPS Tracking.

How Much Does It Cost to Send First-Class Mail?

As mentioned, USPS’ First Class Mail service is a cost-effective way to send various mailpieces, such as letters and postcards. While the starting prices are cited in the article, the shipping rates vary depending on the specific mail item you’re sending.

Here are the potential costs when shipping through USPS First-Class Mail:

Letters

When you send a letter through USPS First-Class Mail, you have two ways to pay the postal fees: buying a postage stamp and sticking it onto the envelope or printing the postage directly onto the parcel using a postage meter.

The postage rates are based on the First-Class mailpiece’s weight. As of September 2023, sending 1oz “stamped letters” costs $0.66. Additional ounces will cost you $0.24. In short, it will cost $0.90 ($0.66 + $0.24 = $0.90) to mail a 2oz letter.

For 1oz “metered mail,” prices begin at $0.63. Subsequent ounces will cost you an additional $0.24. For instance, shipping a 3oz metered letter through First-Class Mail will cost you $1.11 ($0.63 + [$0.24 x 2] = $1.11).

That said, these are domestic mail prices. When sending letters through First-Class Mail International, the shipping costs consider the destination.

Prices start at $1.50 for all countries. However, the cost of additional ounces varies depending on the price group. Here’s a quick overview:

WeightCanadaMexicoPrice Group (3 to 5)Price Group (6 to 9)
1$1.50$1.50$1.50$1.50
2$1.50$2.27$2.80$2.60
3$2.15$3.00$4.10$3.69
3.5$2.75$3.76$5.40$4.78

Countries in USPS’ 3-5 price group include Australia, France, and Spain. On the other hand, countries like Costa Rica, Nigeria, and the Philippines belong to price group 6-9.

For more information on the country price groups for USPS’ First-Class Mail International service, visit the USPS website. Alternatively, you can inquire with a Postal Service representative at your local post office. Easily find USPS facilities by using FindPostOffice.org’s finder tool.

Postcards

The shipping cost for sending a postcard through USPS First-Class Mail is straightforward. The September 2023 postage rate is $0.51 for domestic addresses and $1.50 for all international destinations.

Large Envelopes/Small Packages:

What sets First-Class Mail apart from other USPS mailing options is that you can use large envelopes or small packages to send larger items that don’t qualify as letters or postcards and benefit from its offerings.

The starting shipping cost for mailing large envelopes and small packages to a domestic address, as of September 2023, is $1.35. You must pay an additional $0.24 for every subsequent ounce.

Note that pricing for First-Class Mail International is more complex. Here’s a breakdown of what your expenses may look like when you send international mail through USPS First-Class International:

WeightCanadaMexicoPrice Group (3 to 5)Price Group (6 to 9)
1$3.00$3.00$3.00$3.00
2$3.29$3.90$4.23$4.17
3$3.57$4.78$5.45$5.33
4$3.82$5.67$6.71$6.49
5$4.10$6.56$7.93$7.65
6$4.37$7.44$9.16$8.82
7$4.65$8.34$10.39$9.97
8$4.92$9.22$11.61$11.13
12$6.29$11.13$14.08$13.54
15.99$7.65$13.05$16.54$15.93

Global Forever (International)

As mentioned, you can use Forever stamps on your First-Class international shipments. However, international mail shipping costs are generally higher than domestic ones.

In other words, you must attach additional $0.66 stamps to cover the postage fee. Fortunately, the U.S. Mail service streamlines this process with its Global Forever International stamp, which costs $1.50, the same as postage for a single-piece First Class Mail International 1oz letter.

Weight, Size, and Shape Requirements

The USPS First-Class Mail service boasts reliable shipping at a budget-friendly price. But to benefit from this mailing option, you must follow strict weight, size, and shape guidelines.

The most notable requirement is the weight guideline. Postcards have a maximum weight limit of 3.5oz for domestic and international shipping through USPS First-Class Mail.

Domestic parcels, such as large envelopes, must weigh less than 13oz. At the same time, small packages sent to an international address must weigh under 15.99oz.

Additional Charges for Irregular Mailpieces, Envelopes, and Small Packages

If your package exceeds the First-Class Mail service’s weight limit, you may need to reduce it or send it through a different USPS service, such as Priority Mail Express or Parcel Select Ground.

But are you aware that your mailpiece’s size and shape can also impact whether you can ship it through First-Class Mail? Unfortunately, surcharges may apply if your mailpiece doesn’t meet USPS’ standard package dimensions. 

Nonmachinable Envelopes

When you ship envelopes with USPS, they go through an automated process handled by postal machines. A postal worker must manually cancel mail that is irregularly shaped or has clasps, buttons, or strings.

These “nonmachinable” mailpieces come with additional expenses and include the following:

  • Envelopes exceeding 4 ¼ inches high or 6 inches long
  • Mailpieces below 0.0009-inch in thickness
  • Mail items whose length divided by height are more than 2.5 inches or less than 1.3 inches

Note that this list isn’t exhaustive. For a comprehensive checklist of nonmachinable parcels for First-Class Mail, visit the USPS website or talk to a U.S. Mail service representative. Find your area’s most accessible USPS facilities with FindPostOffice.org’s post office locator.

Large Mailpieces, Envelopes, and Small Packages

The maximum size for standard First-Class letters is 11 ½ inches wide, 6 ⅛ inches long, and ¼ inches thick. Letters that exceed these dimensions fall into the category of large envelopes or flats.

The standard dimensions for large envelopes are 15 inches wide, 12 inches long, and ¾ inches thick. If your parcel surpasses the size restrictions or exhibits rigidity, has a non-rectangular share, or has an uneven thickness, USPS may categorize it as a “package.”

In other words, your parcel is subject to “package” shipping rates and may be required to be sent through other USPS mailing options, such as Ground Advantage.

The Cost of a Forever Stamp Increases by 2 Cents

Although a Forever stamp is relatively affordable, it was cheaper a few months ago. Effective July 9, 2023, USPS increased its mailing services’ pricing. These changes include increasing the rates of First-Class Mail Forever stamps from $0.63 to $0.66.

How Much Do Forever Stamps Cost?

As of September 2023, the price of a Forever stamp is $0.66. This price increase primarily affected the USPS First-Class Mail service, as its postage rate is based on the cost of Forever stamps.

Blame the Internet

The rise of the internet, particularly online messaging, has significantly impacted the volume of USPS’ First-Class Mail. USPS had to make price changes to remedy the revenue loss and combat rising inflation.

In doing so, the U.S. Mail service hopes to achieve financial stability as part of its “Delivering for America” 10-year plan. This plan also includes potential changes to its delivery schedule, with six days for mail and seven for packages.

Summary of the Postage Rate Increase

Here’s what the First-Class postage rate increase looks like:

ProductPrevious PricesNew Prices
Domestic 1-oz letter$0.63$0.66
Domestic 1-oz metered letter$0.60$0.63
Domestic postcards$0.48$0.51
International postcards$1.45$1.50
International 1-oz letter$1.45$1.50

What Is Presorted First-Class Mail?

Presorting your mail means grouping them by ZIP code. If you send a high volume of First-Class mail items frequently, presorting allows you to lower your postage costs, as the U.S. Postal Service will charge you commercial prices instead of retail.

To find out how presorting affects your shipping costs, visit the USPS website at USPS.com or your local post office. Quickly find the U.S. Mail service’s facilities in your area with FindPostOffice.org.

Can I Upgrade First-Class Mail?

As mentioned, you can upgrade your First-Class Mail by purchasing additional services. These optional add-ons include shipping insurance, USPS Tracking, and Signature Confirmation.

How to Buy Stamps for First-Class Mail Postage

Buying stamps for First-Class Mail is straightforward: visit a location that sells postage stamps. Fortunately, you have various options, including the following: 

  • Your local post office
  • The USPS website
  • Online retailers, such as Amazon and eBay
  • Grocery stores and pharmacies like CVS (Customer Value Store) and Walgreens
  • Retail stores, including Walmart and Costco
  • Private mailbox stores, such as the UPS (United Parcel Service) Store and PostNet
  • Financial institutions

How Many Stamps Must I Put On an Envelope?

The number of stamps you must affix to an envelope depends on the parcel’s weight, size, shape, and extra services included. The destination will also be a factor if you’re shipping a letter or postcard to an international address.

For instance, sending a 1-oz First-Class letter requires you to put one Forever stamp or any combination of stamps totaling $0.66. On the other hand, you must stick several stamps equal to $0.90 to cover the postage cost of a 2-oz First-Class letter.

Use the USPS price calculator tool to accurately determine the postage rate of your First-Class mailpieces and the number of stamps you must attach to the envelope. Alternatively, you can ask for help from a postal worker. Quickly find post office locations by visiting FindPostOffice.org.

How Can I Pay for USPS First-Class Mail Postage?

Generally, you pay for USPS First-Class Mail postage by buying and affixing the appropriate number of stamps on your mail item. While you can’t print your own First-Class postage using the USPS online postage tool Click-N-Ship, you can use it to pay shipping fees.

If you want to avoid the hassle of calculating postage or the number of stamps you must affix to your envelopes, you can use Priority Mail Flat Rate. This USPS service lets you ship packages up to 70lbs to any domestic address at a fixed rate.

The primary benefit of Priority Mail is that the packaging determines the base postage price. For instance, flat-rate envelopes cost $9.65, while large flat-rate boxes start at $22.80.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Does First-Class Mail have tracking?

Unlike other USPS mail delivery options like Priority Mail or Media Mail, First-Class Mail doesn’t automatically include tracking. That said, you can purchase extra services for your First-Class letter to allow you to monitor its progress throughout the USPS network.

  1. How do you send First-Class Mail?

Sending your First-Class Mail is simple. Properly address the envelope, stick the appropriate number of postage stamps, and drop it off at a post office or USPS collection box, or ask USPS to pick up your package at your office or home address. 

  1. How long does First-Class Mail take?

For domestic First-Class mailpieces, delivery is one to five business days. However, the shipping window for international mail items varies, depending on the destination. Generally, it takes around 7 to 21 days.

  1. What is considered First-Class Mail?

First-Class Mail is a USPS service. In other words, any mail item you send through this mailing option is First-Class Mail. That said, these items must follow specific weight, size, and shape guidelines.

  1. Does First-Class Mail have insurance?

The USPS First-Class Mail service doesn’t include insurance. You can purchase USPS tracking and shipping insurance to protect your letters, postcards, or small packages from damage or loss for an additional surcharge.

  1. Can you use Flat Rate boxes for First-Class Mail?

USPS’ flat rate products allow you to ship packages up to a specific weight to any state at the same price. Unfortunately, these packaging materials are only available when you ship through Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express. In other words, you can’t use flat-rate boxes for First-Class Mail.

  1. How many stamps do I need for 2-oz mail?

Let’s assume your 2-oz letter meets the size and shape guidelines, and you didn’t purchase additional services. You’ll need one Forever stamp, equal to $0.66, plus a combination of standard stamps to cover the $0.90 total shipping fee.

Alternatively, you can combine standard stamps without a Forever stamp until they reach a total value equal to the postage cost. Another option is to use two Forever stamps.

It may be possible to receive a refund if you overpay your postage, mainly if you use a third-party website like Stamps.com to pay the shipping costs.

References

  1. USPS Postal History
    https://about.usps.com/who/profile/history/significant-dates.htm
  2. Regional Rate Boxes
    https://faq.usps.com/s/article/Regional-Rate-Boxes
  3. National postal systems
    https://www.britannica.com/topic/postal-system/National-postal-systems
  4. First-Class Mail
    https://www.usps.com/ship/first-class-mail.htm
  5. Forever Stamp Fact Sheet
    https://about.usps.com/news/fact-sheets/forever-stamp-facts.htm
  6. Postage Stamps – The Basics
    https://faq.usps.com/s/article/Postage-Stamps-The-Basics
  7. International Mail & Shipping Services
    https://www.usps.com/international/mail-shipping-services.htm
  8. Insurance & Extra Services
    https://www.usps.com/ship/insurance-extra-services.htm
  9. First-Class Mail International
    https://www.usps.com/international/first-class-mail-international.htm
  10. Domestic Mail & Shipping Services
    https://www.usps.com/ship/mail-shipping-services.htm
  11. What is a postage meter?
    https://faq.usps.com/s/article/What-is-a-Postage-meter
  12. USPS Price List
    https://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/notice123.htm
  13. What is the Non-Machinable Surcharge for First-Class Mail®?
    https://faq.usps.com/s/article/What-is-the-Non-Machinable-Surcharge
  14. First-Class Mail Fact Sheet
    https://about.usps.com/postal-bulletin/2007/html/pb22218/kit1_010.htm
  15. Sizes for Large Envelopes and Flats
    https://pe.usps.com/businessmail101
  16. U.S. Postal Service Files Notice with PRC for New Mailing Services Pricing
    https://about.usps.com/newsroom/national-releases/2023/
  17. U.S. Postal Service eyes e-commerce to offset declining mail
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-usps-ecommerce
  18. Delivering for America
    https://about.usps.com/what/strategic-plans/delivering-for-america/
  19. Where to buy postage stamps, including the post office, online, ATMs, and grocery stores
    https://www.insider.com/guides/home/where-to-buy-stamps
  20. Click-N-Ship® – The Basics
    https://faq.usps.com/s/article/Click-N-Ship-The-Basics
  21. Priority Mail
    https://www.usps.com/ship/priority-mail.htm
  22. Carrier Pickup Free Pickup Saves a Trip to the Post Office
    https://about.usps.com/news/electronic-press-kits/2009/holiday/