Bulk mail is a way to save money on postage by doing things that save the
US Postal Service (USPS) money. They pass some of the savings along to you by charging you
lower postage prices.
The most common type of bulk mail is called "Standard Class". (It used to be called "3rd Class".) Most advertising mail, newsletters, etc. are sent using Standard Class.
Standard Class offers low postage rates for commercial mailers, and even lower rates for approved nonprofit mailers.
How many pieces do I need for Standard Class bulk mail?
To get Standard Class bulk mail pricing, you need to send at least 200 pieces or 50 pounds of mail at one time (whichever is less). You don't need to send a certain number of pieces to any particular zip code or part of the country, etc., as long as all of your mail is going to addresses within the United States (which can include military addresses, Puerto Rico and U.S. posessions). There are also no monthly or yearly quantity requirements.
What are the size and weight limits for Standard Class bulk mail?
Need help with the layout of your mailpiece to meet bulk mail requirements? Contact a USPS Mailpiece Design Analyst at 1-855-593-6093.
Each piece in a Standard Class mailing must weigh less than one pound (16 ounces).
The longer side of each piece must be no more than 15 inches long. The shorter side must be no more than 12 inches long. The piece can be no more than 3/4" thick.
Pieces that are larger, or that aren't flexible enough to go through postal sorting equipment, may be able to be sent as Standard Class parcels or as Parcel Select Lightweight parcels. See our help page on saving money on bulk parcels.
Can I personalize Standard Class bulk mail?
In each mailing, your pieces must be essentially identical. However, you can include some personalized information on each piece, if it's directly related to the purpose of the mail. (Careful, the rules can be tricky. See our help page on the do's and don'ts of personalizing bulk mail.)
That means you may send form letters on which you personalize the name and address. And, if you follow the rules carefully, you can include some other personalized information, like the amount of a recent donation.
But, you can't scribble notes to your friends on various pieces. And you generally can't send invoices, statements, checks, or other similar mail using Standard Class.
(If you send mail like invoices, statements, or similar mail that is not eligible for Standard Class rates, and you send at least 500 pieces at one time, you can still get a small postage discount by using presorted First Class Mail.)
How much can I save with Standard Class bulk mail?
The exact postage for each piece depends on how many pieces you have going to what locations. In general, you get the best prices when you have a lot of pieces going to the same area.
The terms "letters" and "flats" can be confusing, because USPS calls smaller pieces "letters", even though they may be postcards or booklets, and calls larger pieces "flats", even though they may be envelopes or catalogs. Just remember, for postage, it's the size category that matters, not whether it's a card, envelope, or booklet.
Unfortunately, there is no single postage rate that applies to all bulk mail. In fact, in any bulk mailing, there's a pretty good chance that you'll pay several different postage rates on different pieces, depending on where the pieces are going.
But, to help you estimate the cost of a bulk mailing, here are some ranges for mail that weight less than 3.3 ounces per piece (updated for the April 10, 2016, USPS postage price changes):
Pieces up to 6⅛ inches by 11½ inches by ¼ inch
(USPS calls this size "letters"):
Sent to specific recipients (not to every address in an area):
Commercial mailers: 21.0¢ - 30.7¢
Nonprofit mailers: 9.5¢ - 19.2¢
Sent to every address in an area:
Commercial mailers: 15.0¢ - 19.4¢
Nonprofit mailers: 7.6¢ - 12.0¢
Retail postage for same piece: 47.0¢,
or for cards up to 4¼ by 6 inches: 34.0¢
Larger pieces, up to 12 inches by 15 inches by ¾ inches
(USPS calls this size "flats"):
Sent to specific recipients (not to every address in an area):
Commercial mailers: 25.2¢ - 58.0¢
Nonprofit mailers: 11.3¢ - 44.1¢
Sent to every address in an area:
Commercial mailers: 15.2¢ - 20.5¢
Nonprofit mailers: 7.8¢ - 13.1¢
Retail postage for same piece: 94.0¢
Pieces that are larger, or that aren't flexible enough to go through postal sorting equipment, may be able to be sent as Standard Class parcels or Parcel Select Lightweight, which are very economical services for parcels under one pound. See our help page on saving money on bulk parcels.
Note that when determining Standard Class bulk postage rates, it doesn't matter whether the piece is a card, an envelope, or an open piece (like a tri-fold or booklet). A postcard is either a "letter" or a "flat" depending on its size, and an envelope or a booklet is charged the same rate as a postcard of the same size and weight.
Obviously, these are pretty wide postage ranges, especially for flat-sized pieces. The exact postage you'd pay in any mailing depends on where you mail the pieces, where each piece is going, how many pieces are going to any one geographic area, and whether or not you print barcodes on your pieces.
For complete postage information, you can use our rate calculator on our Standard Class Bulk Mail Postage Prices page. If you already have the list you want to mail to, we recommend you download a free demo copy of our Postage Saver bulk mail software, and run your list through it. It will figure out the exact postage you'd pay mailing that specific list, and let you try various options.
What permits, software and supplies do I need to prepare Standard Class bulk mail (or Presorted First Class)?
If you buy a permit imprint number, you can print a box like this (called an "indicia") on your mail instead of putting a stamp on each piece. That saves a lot of work! For details on what goes in the box, click here.
PAVE-certified sorting software, like Postage $aver, is not the same as CASS software. You generally always need sorting software to prepare bulk mail, unless your mailing is going to just one or two zip codes.
CASS software is only needed if you are barcoding, which is optional for bulk mailing. Most smaller mailers let a list processing service do their CASS processing, since CASS software is very expensive. See our help page on barcoding and CASS certification.
You can earn most of the postage savings available by simply sorting your mail
according to USPS bulk mail regulations. That will get you much of the savings discussed above, with the least effort.
Here's what you need:
A permit to mail at Standard Class prices (or Presorted First Class, as applicable). It lasts a year, and costs $220. You can use it as many times during that year as you want.
A permit imprint account number. This lets you print a bulk price postage box (called an "indicia") on your mail, instead of putting a stamp on each piece. The post office will set up an account for you to deposit your postage payments prior to mailing. There is a one-time charge of $220. It is automatically renewed at no extra charge when you renew your permit.
For details on what goes in the box, click here. You print the indicia as part of the mail piece. You don't need any special software for it. Optional but well worth it.
Mail trays or mail sacks (depending on the size of your mail) and various other mailing supplies. These are provided by the USPS at no charge. You can pick up a bunch when you go to buy your permit.
Your mailing list on a computer in database software (like Access, Act!, dBase, Excel, etc.) or special mailing list software (like ChurchWindows). Sorry, but this is very difficult to do with a list that's already on labels or in a word processing program (like Word), unless your mailing is going to just one or two zip codes.
USPS "Pave-approved" sorting software. You can try to learn all the confusing rules yourself, and then keep up with the changes, or you can let a software company do it for you. We recommend our Postage $aver product. It's easy to use and will print step-by-step instructions to walk you through preparing every mailing. The Lite version, which does everything you need for non-barcoded mail weighing 3 ounces or less, is only $29.50 and includes free updates for a year. Optional but well worth it.
How do I prepare my mail to get Standard Class bulk mail (or Presorted First Class) discounts?
The bulk mail counter often has longer hours than the rest of the post office. Remember that if you are using a permit imprint (indicia) instead of stamps, you'll first have to go to the regular counter to pay your postage if you don't already have money in your bulk mail account.
Regular Standard Class (3602-R)
Nonprofit Standard Class (3602-N)
Presorted First Class (3600-FCM)
Periodicals Class (3541)
Parcel Select Lightweight (3605)
Before actually sorting your mail, you must decide how you will comply with the USPS "move update" requirement, which now applies to all bulk mailings. This means you must make sure that each person or company on your mailing list hasn't moved to a new address, or you must give USPS permission to deliver the piece as addressed regardless of whether the name is still correct.
The easiest way to comply with this requirement is to include "OR CURRENT RESIDENT", or a similar marking, in your address, right under the name. That way, the USPS carrier can deliver the piece to that address whether your addressee is still there or has moved.
If you don't want to add that marking, you must choose from several other options to prepare your list with the latest forwarding information. Please see click here for our simple explanation of how to meet this requirement.
Sort your mailing list according the USPS rules. This is NOT simply sorting it in zip code order. In fact, sometimes you keep a whole zip code together, sometimes you put it with other zip codes, and sometimes you have to split it into different parts. (That's why we recommended you use USPS-approved sorting software. It does the thinking for you.)
Print out your labels or envelopes in this sorted order.
Flat-sized pieces and those with irregular shapes need to be rubber-banded together into "bundles". (Normal shaped letter-sized mail is no longer prepared in bundles.) A bundle is simply a stack of mail, no more than 6" thick", held together by rubber bands. You put a little sticker on the top piece of each stack to show what kind of bundle it is. For example, a bundle where all the zip codes have the same first three digits gets a little "3" sticker. Or, instead of the stickers, you can print an "optional endorsement line" on each piece above the address. That line looks like "*******3D 780". If you use Postage $aver, it will tell you whether you need to bundle your mail, what bundles to make and what stickers or endorsement lines to put on.
Next, put the mail in trays, if you are mailing letter-sized mail (or Presorted First Class flat-sized mail), or in sacks, if you are mailing Standard Class flat-sized pieces. Each tray or sack consists of mail that will go to a specific sorting facility and must be labeled using a very specific format. Postage $aver tells you what mail (or bundles of mail) go in what trays or sacks, and creates the tray or sack tags.
When you have it all done, then load it all in the car and take it to the post office. You cannot drop Standard Class mail or Presorted First Class mail in the nearest mailbox. Your best bet is to take it to the main post office in your area that actually processes bulk mail. They have postal clerks there who specialize in bulk mail, and who may catch any problems with your mailing while you are still there at the post office.
Some neighborhood and town post offices are authorized to accept bulk mail (not all are). In general, you will not get "close location" discounts (called "entry" discounts) unless you take your mail to the main processing office.
When you present your mail, you'll need two forms. One is called the Postage Statement. You can get blank forms from the USPS, or you can download them. It's a summary of who you are, how many pieces you are mailing, how many trays or sacks, and what price you expect to be charged. Postage $aver prints and fills out this form for you.
The second form is called a Price Qualification Report. It's basically a list of what bundles are in each tray, with a running total for each price category. Postage $aver produces this report. While it is not absolutely required for every mailing, it's makes life a lot easier for the postal clerk who has to review your mailing. Remember, you always want to make your postal clerk's life as easy as you can.
Does my bulk mailing need barcodes?
Barcodes are used by USPS to automatically sort mail down to each individual address. Barcoded bulk mail earns a slightly lower postage rate than bulk mail without barcodes. Barcoding is never mandatory for bulk mailing (except on bulk parcels), and the additional savings from barcoding are not nearly as much what you save by doing all the other steps, but for a sizable mailing it can be worth doing.
Whether it's worth it for you to do the extra work to get to the next level of discount depends a lot on how many pieces you are mailing. For mailings of many thousands of pieces, you probably want to save as much on each piece as possible. For smaller mailings, the cost for additional software or the time you would spend on more complicated preparation is often not worth the few extra pennies saved.
For example, adding barcodes to Standard Class letters would save you anywhere from as much as 3.4¢ per piece, if you have at least 150 pieces going to the same 5-digit zip code, to as little as only 1.3¢ per piece, if you don't. To add barcodes, you must have a perfect 9-digit zip code for every address. To do that, you either need to buy expensive software to verify your zip codes, or you need to send your list to an online zip code service. Either way, you quickly eat up the extra savings unless you are mailing thousands of pieces or your mailing is concentrated within a few zip codes.
Here's information on how and when to add barcoding.