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USPS Mail Shipping Classes Explained

Posted By Jim On 02/18/2008 @ 2:08 pm In Personal Finance | 37 Comments

Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve been mailing a bunch of documents and packages back and forth between my parents and myself. Some of these packages have been important from a sentimental perspective, some have been important from a financial perspective, and some were just some routine things that weren’t important at all. While my faith in the United States Postal Service is a little shaky, they’ve had a good enough track record that I’d trust them as long as I didn’t test them by mailing too much! In all those instances, we had to decide on how we were going to mail it – certified, registered, express, priority or regular? What’s the difference? The differences are actually pretty substantial and it’s important to understand what each is trying to accomplish so you don’t overpay.

Certified Mail

The package is trackable and a signature is required on delivery. The point of certified is if you can’t completely trust your recipient or you need a timestamp of when a package is accepted. This makes it perfectly suited for official letters because the post office will track when the letter was delivered along with a signature by the person who accepted it. If you don’t need either of these things, certified mail is a completely waste of money.

Registered Mail

Registered mail is the only one that guarantees delivery and they claim to put it under “tight security from the point of mailing to the point of delivery,” plus insurance of up to $25k against loss and damage. If what you’re shipping is over $5,000 (that’s the normal insurance limit) and you want USPS shipping insurance, registered mail is the one for you. If the thought of having to mail your item or letter scares you, you’ll probably want this insurance.

Express Mail

The package is trackable (if you print the label online) though no signature is required on delivery. Guaranteed to get there as promised or your money back. If you want speed, this is your best bet. The guarantee is a money-back guarantee, it’s possible that the package will never get there.

Priority Mail

The package is trackable (if you print the label online) though no signature is required on delivery. An interesting tidbit, any package over a pound is automatically considered priority mail even if you want to do it first class. Both are transported together and it is not treated any differently than regular mail. The 2-3 day delivery timeline is an estimate and not a guarantee, you’ll need Express Mail for a money-back guarantee.

First Class Mail

This is essentially everything else and is what I call regular mail. It’s called First Class because it’s the “best” of the shipment options that aren’t Express or Priority. Some examples of other classes are Media Mail and Parcel Post… both are slooooowwwww.

Confusion…

I think two things confuse people the most about shipping with the USPS:

  • People think Priority Mail means it’s guaranteed to get there in 2-3 days, it really gets there as quickly as it would’ve if you shipped it First Class. If you have something that is less than 16 oz. and you ask for Priority Mail, you’re paying more for the sticker.
  • People mistake Certified Mail for Registered Mail. If you’re filing some document, certified mail is what you want. If you’re mailing a $25,000 necklace, then registered mail is what you want.

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