Intelligent Mail Barcoding and CASS Certification
Bulk mail that has barcodes can be eligible for a lower postage rate than non-barcoded bulk mail. The amount of additional savings for barcoding is small, per piece, but can add up if you have a large mailing.
You are never required to barcode your mail to get bulk mail discounts. Most of the savings for using bulk mail comes from the discounts USPS gives you for sorting your mail for them.
While there is an additional postage discount for barcoding, there are also some additional costs. For example, before barcoding your mail, you must first "CASS-certify" your mailing list, which has some cost. (More on this below.) Mailers with larger quantities of bulk mail (more than, say, 3,000 pieces per mailing) usually can save by barcoding. For smaller quantities, barcoding may cost more than it saves, since the discounts for barcoding are small (often less than a penny per piece).
Even with all the pending new requirements for barcoded mail, bulk mailers will still not be required to use barcodes at all. The new requirements only apply to those are barcoding. Whether or not to barcode will still be up to each mailer.
By the way, if you are just sending some letters and are not using bulk mail or another type of presorted mail, there are no savings from barcoding.
The USPS has phased out the older style of barcodes, known as "Postnet barcodes", and replaced them with new "Intelligent Mail Barcodes" (IMBs). (Postnet barcodes are no longer be acceptable.)
Intelligent Mail Barcodes look like this:
Intelligent Mail Barcodes carry much more information than the older Postnet barcodes. They are also much more difficult to create. Anyone who was pretty good using formulas in Excel, Access or Filemaker could figure out how to create Postnet barcodes, but Intelligent Mail Barcodes need more sophisticated software to "code" much more information into just 65 bars.
There are two different categories of IMBs. They can be either "basic-service" or "full-service". You can't tell by looking at a barcode whether it is for basic-service or for full-service.
Basic-service IMBs get you barcoding discounts but offer no additional features. Full-service IMBs get you slightly larger barcoding discounts plus the ability to track your mail through postal facilities, free address correction information, and, if essentially all your mail is produced this way, an exemption from having to pay for your bulk mail permit. However, full-service IMBs require electronic submission of all postal paperwork, unique serial numbers on each mailing (or, for larger mailings, unique serial numbers for each piece of mail), special tray/sack tags with unique serial numbers, and tighter rules on filling out your paperwork.
Note that "electronic submission" is not simply a matter of uploading a pdf, but instead requires special software to create and transmit specially formatted files to USPS. (The file formats are called Mail.dat and Mail.xml.) It's not something you can do with Word or another generic software program. For most mailings under 10,000 pieces, you can meet the electronic submission requirement by using the USPS "Postal Wizard" web site, where you essentially type in all the data from your postage statement (form 3602R, 3602N, etc.) instead of uploading files.
USPS plans to discontinue basic-service IMBs, meaning that to get barcoding discounts at all you will have to use full-service IMBs and submit your paperwork electronically. The deadline for moving to full-service IMBs, for those mailers currently using basic-service IMBs, was originally set for January, 2014, but has been postponed until at least 2015. No new date has been set, so for now, basic-service IMBs are still acceptable.
To create Intelligent Mail Barcodes (either basic-service or full-service), you first need a "Mailer ID" number, which is NOT the same as any other number you may have from USPS (such as your permit number, CRID number or nonprofit authorization number). To get a Mailer ID, apply here on the USPS site.
Our Smart Barcoder software creates accurate Intelligent Mail Barcodes. Mailers who own registered copies of our older "Secret Barcoder Ring" software, which created the older Postnet barcodes, are eligible for a discount when upgrading to Smart Barcoder. Click here for details on upgrading.
Most of the savings in bulk mailing comes from sorting. Barcoding typically reduces your postage cost by anywhere from 0.8¢ to 2.9¢ per piece below non-barcoded bulk rates. The largest barcoding savings are for mailings that have more than 150 pieces going to the same 5-digit zip code, with smaller savings for mailings that are scattered among many zip codes without 150 pieces to any one of them.
For a typical one-ounce letter, card, tri-fold, etc., here are the postage prices you can expect:
Regular First Class stamped mail: 49¢
Regular First Class metered mail: 48¢
Standard letter-sized bulk mail - sorted - no barcodes:
24.6¢ to 30.9¢
Standard letter-sized bulk mail - sorted - barcoded:
21.7¢ to 30.1¢
Standard letter-sized bulk mail - sorted - no barcodes - nonprofit:
12.8¢ to 19.1¢
Standard letter-sized bulk mail - sorted - barcoded - nonprofit:
9.9¢ to 18.3¢
Because the discount categories for barcoded mail are different from those for non-barcoded mail, an address that gets the best non-barcoded price will often not get the best barcoded price. This means the savings for a barcoded mailing will often not be as large as the differences in postage categories would seem to indicate.
To get the barcoded prices, you must do everything you need to do for regular bulk mail prices, plus the following:
Get a "mailer ID" from USPS, as described above. To get a mailer ID, start here.
CASS-certify your list. CASS-certification is a specific way to make sure you have the most recent zip+4 codes and delivery-point codes, as required for barcoding. (Click here to jump down to more information on CASS-certification.) You don't need to do this every time you prepare a barcoded mailing, but every address in a barcoded mailing must have been CASS-certified within the previous six months.
If you are using labels for your addressing, you'll need labels wide enough for the barcodes to fit. Barcodes are anywhere from 2.7" to 3.25" wide, depending on your software and printer. Plus, the USPS requires that there be at least 1/8" between the barcode and the left and right edges of the label. That means that labels that are 3-across on a standard-size sheet won't work! Make sure your labels are at least 3 1/2" wide to allow for variations in software, printers, and alignment.
You'll need software to create the barcodes. Our barcoding software, called Smart Barcoder, is only $35. If you buy the Pro version of our Postage $aver bulk mail sorting software, we'll give you Smart Barcoder free as part of the package.
Beware: the barcode that older versions of Microsoft Word automatically creates is not the barcode you need for bulk mailing discounts! If you have a version of Word that offers a USPS barcoding feature, turn it off!
In addition to software, you need a barcode font to print the barcodes. When you print a barcode on an envelope or label, what you are really doing is printing a string of letters using a special font that prints each letter as a bar.
You can buy our barcode font for only $15, or we'll include it free when you buy either Smart Barcoder or Postage $aver Pro.
Make sure the sorting software you are using can handle barcoded bulk mail. Bulk mail that is barcoded goes to different postal sorting centers than non-barcoded bulk mail. If you are using sorting software to prepare your mailing (and we strongly recommend that you do), make sure it can handle barcoded mail. Postage $aver Pro handles barcoded mail, but Postage $aver Lite does not.
Some mail is not eligible for barcoding. To get barcoding discounts, your mail must be able to pass through automated sorting equipment. Letter-szied or flat-sized mail that is thick, irregularly shaped or too stiff to bend is not eligible for barcoding discounts, even if you put barcodes on it, since it cannot be sorted on automatic machines. Check with your postmaster if you think your mail might not be eligible.
In general, you follow the same procedure for barcoded bulk mail as you would for non-barcoded bulk mail, except:
You must print the barcodes on your mail per USPS rules (obviously). There are only certain places on your mail where the barcode can go. You must always use black ink for the barcodes, and you must not make them larger or smaller than their required size. Here is a USPS guide for where to put barcodes on letter-sized or postcard-sized mail. Here is a guide for where to put barcodes on flat-sized mail.
Folded mail or booklets that are sent without an envelope must also meet USPS sealing requirements in order to earn barcoding discounts. Here is a USPS guide to tabbing and sealing such pieces.
The sorting combinations for barcoded mail are different than those for non-barcoded mail. You must sort your mail according to the rules for barcoded pieces, which may be different from the rules you are used to following for non-barcoded mail. If you are using PAVE-certified sorting software like Postage $aver, it will automatically take any differences into account when it sorts your mail.
For full-service IMBs, you are required to submit your postal paperwork electronically. For most mailings of fewer than 10,000 pieces, all of the same weight, the mailer can use the USPS "Postal Wizard" web page to submit paperwork electronically. Full-service IMB mailings of more than 10,000 pieces require software that can submit paperwork files in special USPS data formats, called "Mail.dat" and "Mail.xml".
For basic-service IMBs, electronic submission is not required. Currently, mailers can still use basic-service IMBs and submit paper forms, as usual. However, USPS plans to eliminate basic-service IMBs, so all barcoded mailings will need electronically-submitted paperwork using one of the methods mentioned above. The deadline for this change was set for January, 2014, but has been postponed until at least 2015. We will post the new deadline when it is announced by USPS.
Actually, CASS certification is the USPS' procedure for verifying the accuracy of commercial
zip code matching software.
But most mailers and many postal employees think of CASS certification as the actual matching process
that the software performs, rather than the postal service's testing procedure. So, we'll use
the common meaning of the term here.
CASS certification is the process of
matching your address list to the USPS master list of zip+4 codes. This makes sure you have the latest zip+4 codes, which can change when postal delivery routes change. Also, the master list provides an extra two digits, called a "delivery point code", that is necessary to create an accurate barcode.
There's no point in adding a barcode if it's wrong, so USPS will allow you to take discounts for barcoding ONLY if you can show that your list was CASS-certified during the previous 6 months.
For small mailers, it's generally not practical to CASS-certify your own lists in house, since the software to do this ("Cass-certified software") typically costs $500-$1000 per year. It's expensive because it must include the USPS file of all streets and zip+4 codes, which has around 30 million entries and must be updated every two months. It's not something you want to have to pay for and maintain if you are only doing small or occasional mailings.
A better option, for most small mailers, is to use one of the service companies that will certify your list for you. For a small list, they typically charge around $30. Here are some companies that our customers use:You send them your list through the Internet. They run your list through their matching software, and then return the certified list to you through the Internet along with the required CASS report.
Most of these companies can also provide NCOA move-update service with CASS-certification included, so you can do both steps at the same time. (NCOA is required for bulk mailings if you are not using "OR CURRENT RESIDENT" on your addresses or tracking your forwarding addresses in house. For more information on NCOA, see our move update help page.)
If, however, you are mailing to a very large list, or if you regularly get new lists that need to be certified, and it is more economical to purchase your own CASS-certified software, one of the least expensive software products of this type is DP4, from Semaphore Corporation.
If you are buying a list from a list vendor, it's worth it to buy from a vendor that will CASS-certify and NCOA-process the list for you. One good source of CASS-certified mailing lists is InfoUSA.
To prove that your list has been CASS-certified, your CASS processing company (or CASS software) will provide a "CASS report" (USPS Form 3553) showing how many addresses were reviewed, how many were matched, when the matching was done, and the date of the master list. You are not required to submit Form 3553 to the USPS unless they ask for it, but it's a good idea to take it with you in case they decide to ask. There is also a place on the postage statement where you must indicate the date when CASS-certified matching was done.
If you purchase a CASS-certified mailing list from a list vendor, make sure it comes with CASS report, so that you can provide it to the USPS if required.
On almost every mailing list, there are some addresses that cannot be matched accurately to a 9-digit zip code and 2-digit delivery-point code. Any address that the CASS-certification process cannot match with a 9-digit zip code and 2-digit delivery point code cannot be barcoded. |
If that happens, you can sometimes mix barcoded and non-barcoded pieces in the same bulk mailing, paying the applicable barcoded or non-barcoded postage price for each piece. For example, if you are mailing flat-sized pieces, you can mail non-barcoded and barcoded pieces in the same sacks, with the barcoded pieces bundled separately from the non-barcoded pieces. This is called a "co-sacked" mailing. If you are mailing letter-sized or postcard-sized pieces, any pieces you cannot barcode must be mailed separately, either at non-barcoded bulk mail prices if you have at least 200 pieces, or at the regular single-piece First Class price if you don't.
Despite what you might have heard, you generally do NOT need CASS certification for bulk mailing if you are not barcoding. Most of the savings from bulk mailing comes from sorting, not from barcoding. If you don't barcode, you don't even need 9-digit zip codes for bulk mailing, so you do not need CASS certification.
The other time when you would need CASS certification is if you were sending a "carrier route" mailing, which is generally only if you are mailing to every house or business on a mail carrier's route. This type of mailing needs special sorting, and CASS certification must be done to make sure your list has current mail route information. Most mailers do not do carrier route mailings.