This page explains how to prepare a bulk mailing. If you're just starting and don't have your permit yet, please see our "Getting Started" page.

OK, you have a bulk mail permit, you've printed your mail pieces, and you have your list. Now what?

Bulk mail prices are all based on saving USPS money by doing some of the work yourself. USPS passes some of their savings along to you, by charging you lower postage prices.

The six steps in preparing your mail to get bulk mail pricing are: You may or may not need to do the first two, as explained below. The last four steps are required for every bulk mailing.

How do I verify my mailing list to get bulk mail discounts?


This is probably the most confusing part of the bulk mail process, mostly because there are two different processes involved and there are options connected with each. We'll try to make it as simple as we can.

Move update verification, also sometimes referred to as "NCOA". This verification is to make sure the person you're mailing to is still at the address you're using. Otherwise, USPS has to either destroy the piece, return it, or forward it (depending on the mail class and any address correction instruction you've put on the envelope). It's a hassle and an expense for USPS, and they don't want to deal with it if they're already giving you a postage discount.

The simplest way to handle this is to add "OR CURRENT RESIDENT", or similar wording, under the name in the address. That way, USPS can just leave the mail even if the person has moved, so you don't have to verify your list. But sometimes, you might not want your recipients to see OR CURRENT RESIDENT on the envelope.

In that case, you'll need to have a company check your list against the National Change of Address (NCOA) data base. That's a file of everyone who has submitted a change of address notice to USPS. If you do that no more than 95 days before you mail to your list, you'll meet this requirement.

There are companies that specialize in list verification services. For "NCOA18" service, they typically charge about $4 per thousand names, with a minimum charge around $45 per list. Several companies that our customers have used are: You're exempt from the move update requirement if everyone on your list contacted you (not the company you got the list from) and gave you their addresses within the previous 95 days. You're also exempt if you mailed to your list using "ADDRESS CORRECTION REQUESTED" or a similar marking within the previous 95 days, and you updated your list with any address changes. But be careful, because that doesn't apply if your current mailing is the first time you are getting address corrections, since the addresses you are mailing to have not previously been corrected.

For more details on the move update requirement, see here.

Zip+4 plus delivery point verification, also called "CASS certification". This verification fills in any zip codes that are missing the +4 part, corrects any incorrect zips, and provides an additional two-digit code called a "delivery point code" which specifies the particular mail box. The entire zip+4 plus delivery point code is required to create an address barcode.

You only need to "CASS certify" your list if you are barcoding, and barcoding is not required for bulk mail (contrary to what even some USPS personnel may tell you). The barcoding option is explained a little bit down the page.

If you decide to add barcodes, you can buy software to CASS certify your list, but it's far too expensive for most small to medium volume mailers. A better bet is to use one of the companies listed above which also do CASS certification as a service, at prices somewhat lower than NCOA18 (typically $3/thousand with a $30 minimum).

The good news is: if you purchase NCOA18, CASS certification is included with it! So generally, you either do NCOA18 and CASS, or you do neither.

For more details on barcoding and CASS certification, see here.

How do I add barcodes to get bulk mail discounts, and do I need to?


Need help with the layout of your mailpiece to meet bulk mail requirements? Contact a USPS Mailpiece Design Analyst at 1-855-593-6093.
Barcodes are used by USPS to automatically sort mail down to each individual address. Most mail gets barcoded by USPS. If you put the barcodes on, USPS will give you a penny or two for saving them the effort.

Despite what you may have heard, barcodes are not required for bulk mail discounts (except for some parcel mailings). However, you can often save money by adding barcodes to your bulk mailing.

These barcodes are called "Intelligent Mail" barcodes (IMBs). There are two different types of IMBs: "full service" and "basic service". They look the same, but are coded slightly differently, so you have to specify the correct one in the barcode software you're using. The biggest advantage of using full service is that you get your annual bulk mail permit for free. (Otherwise, it's $225.) The postage is also slightly less for full service barcoding than for basic service barcoding (1/10 penny less for most bulk mail; 3/10 penny less for Presorted First Class).

But, to get the full service savings, you're required to submit your mailing information, for each mailing, electronically. If your mailing has fewer than 10,000 pieces, you can do that easily and for free using the Postal Wizard on the USPS Business Gateway web site.

But, if your mailing has 10,000 pieces or more, you're not allowed to use the Postal Wizard. Instead, you need software that does electronic submission, and the software is expensive. So, for mailings of 10,000 pieces or more, it may be cheaper to use basic service barcoding and pay your annual permit fee than to buy the required software for electronic submission to use full service.

Here's what makes sense to us:
  • If you are already paying for NCOA (see above), you're getting CASS certification along with it for free, so you might as well barcode and get the postage savings. Use full service barcoding if your mailing has fewer than 10,000 pieces, but stick with basic service if you are mailing 10,000 pieces or more and don't want to purchase expensive software to do electronic submission.

  • If you're not paying for NCOA and your mailings have fewer than 10,000 pieces each, use full service barcoding, if the $30 charge for CASS certification each time doesn't add up, over a year, to more than the $225 savings on your permit. Otherwise, pay for your permit and don't bother with barcoding.

    When you're figuring that out, remember that each CASS certification is good for six months, so if you are mailing to the same list each time, you'll only need to CASS certify twice each year. And, whether you barcode or not, you still get bulk mail discounts. You just don't get the free permit or the small extra postage discount for barcoding.

  • If you are regularly doing mailings of 10,000 pieces or more, your savings from full service barcoding could pay for the cost of electronic submission software, so work out the numbers and figure out what's best for you.
If you decide to barcode, you'll need a USPS "Mailer ID" number (MID). This is different from any other number you've received from USPS. It's generally nine digits long and begins with a 9 (unless you are a very large volume mailer). You can get a MID free from the USPS Business Customer Gateway. Log in, select Mailing Services, then Mailer ID.

You'll also need software to create the barcodes. The software is not expensive and barcoding itself is a simple process. The barcodes are just another line in your address, so if you're doing a mail merge to print your addresses, you just add a field for the barcode. The barcode is actually made up of a combination of 65 letters, which turn into 65 bars when you use an Intelligent Mail barcode font.

Our Postage $aver Pro software comes with our barcoding software and barcode font at no extra charge, making it easy for you to create barcodes from your CASS certified mailing list.

For more details on barcoding and CASS certification, see here.

How do I sort my mail to get bulk mail discounts?


Sort your mail

Postage $aver Pro does all necessary sorting and paperwork for barcoded and nonbarcoded bulk mail, and is only $79.50.

That's a one-time cost including free updates for a year, with annual renewals for as little as $20/year afterwards.

Or. if you're not planning to barcode, and only sending mail that weighs less than three ounces, Postage $aver Lite will handle your mailings for only $35.00.
To get bulk mail postage discounts, your mail must be sorted and placed into USPS containers (trays or sacks) according to USPS rules. Larger pieces (and those with unusual shapes) must also first be rubber-banded together into specific "bundles" before being placed into their containers.

This is NOT simply sorting your mail in zip code order. The purpose of sorting is to get your mail to its destination with as little handling by USPS as possible. That's a tradeoff between doing less sorting and carrying fewer trays or sacks.

So, for example, if you have 150 or more letters going to the same zip code, USPS requires you put them in their own tray, which then travels directly to the facility where that mail is handled without needing to be sorted anywhere else. (Sometimes, more than one zip code that are handled by the same post office can be put together to meet the 150-piece minimum. That's called a "scheme".)

But, if you have just a few letters going to a zip or scheme, but 150 or more going to zip codes that all have the same first three digits, you'll put those together in a tray that travels directly to the facility handling that whole area. So the "3-digit tray" is not sorted in as much detail as the "5-digit tray", but USPS only has to transport one tray for the whole area instead of a tray for each zip code. The process works its way up through the USPS distribution system, until you're left with just odds and ends in a "mixed" tray.

This gets complicated, the rules are different for each mail class and mail size, and the scheme combinations change as often as monthly. But this is something that inexpensive software can handle for you. Our Postage $aver software has all the rules built in, and prints easy-to-follow instructions telling you where to put each piece, by container and bundle. Postage $aver sorts your list in the same order as the instructions to make your mailing easy to assemble. Plus, it prints all the postal paperwork and container tags discussed below.

How do I assemble my bulk mailing into trays or sacks?


Mixed mail sticker

3-Digit mail sticker
These are examples of stickers that are used to show the sorting level of bundles. They are provided free at your USPS bulk mail center.

tray tags
Trays and sacks of bulk mail require special barcoded tags like this one.
Most letter-sized mail gets placed into trays. The mail should all face the same way, with the address side facing the end of the tray that has the holder for the destination tag. Generally, it doesn't matter what order the pieces are in within a tray. You don't even need to keep zip codes together. (The exception is for "carrier route sorted" mail, which is mail going to all, or almost all, addresses in an area, which must be sorted according to the way mail is delivered by the letter carrier.)

If your letter-sized mail fills the tray (or gets within 85% of full), it should not be rubber-banded together at all, but just stacked into the tray. (That's different from what you might remember from years ago, when particular zip codes in each tray were banded together.) If your tray is not full, or near full, you must rubber-band the letters as necessary to keep them from flopping around and getting unstacked, but no particular grouping or order is required. Just keep each group to under 6 inches thick, so you can hold the bundle in one hand. (Size 64 rubber bands are recommended)

The exception to this rule is for letter-sized mail that is of an unusual shape, so that it is considered to be "nonmachinable". These must be banded like flat-sized mail as explained below.

Flat-sized mail, and parcels, gets placed into sacks, except for Presorted First Class flats, which are placed into "flats trays", also called "tubs". All flat-sized mail, and some irregularly shaped parcels, are first rubber-banded into specific "bundles". A bundle is simply a stack of mail, no more than 6" thick", held together by rubber bands. (Size 64 rubber bands are recommended). The bundles are created according to combinations of zip codes just like the sorting into different trays, discussed above, except that the minimum quantities for bundles are usually lower than the minimums for trays.

To mark the destination of each bundle, you have two options. You can either put a sticker on the top piece of each bundle to show what level of bundle it is, or you can add a line to the address on each piece to show the destination of the bundle.

For example, a "3-digit bundle", with all the zip codes having the same first three digits, would get a "3" sticker. Or, you could print a line that looks like "*******3D 780", for example, as the top line of the address on each piece in the bundle. The bundle destination lines are called "optional endorsement lines" (OELs). If you use Postage $aver, it will tell you whether you need to bundle your mail, what bundles to make, and will create the OELs.

Each tray and sack must be labeled with a tag printed with a very specific format, which includes a special barcode. If you know exactly what tags you need, you can order them from USPS, but generally it's easier and always faster for your bulk mail software to print these. Postage $aver figures out and prints the tray or sack tags you need for each mailing.

What paperwork do I need to get bulk mail discounts?

When you present your mail, you'll need two forms. One is called the Postage Statement. 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 automatically. You can also download blank forms and fill them out yourself.

The second form is called a Price Qualification Report. It's basically a list of the contents of each tray or sack, and the price categories for each. 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.

If you're barcoding your mail, you may also be asked for "form 3553". This form shows that your mailing list has been CASS certified, as required for barcoding. Form 3553 comes from the company that did the certification for you (or the software that does it, if you have your own CASS software). It's typically included with the files that you download when the list has been certified. (It is not produced by Postage Saver, since CASS certification is not part of that software.) You are required to produce your form 3553 if asked, so it's always a good idea to bring a copy with you when you take your mailing to USPS. But hang on to a copy if you're going to mail to the same list again, since CASS certification is good for six months.

Where do I take my mail to get bulk mail discounts?


Time to go to the post office
When you have it all done, load it all in the car and take it to the post office. You cannot drop bulk mail in the nearest mailbox. You generally take your bulk mail to the post office that issued your mailing permit. (There are exceptions to this, but they usually are only used by large volume mailers.)

Some, but not all, neighborhood and town post offices are authorized to accept bulk mail. If much of your mail is going to your local area, you can often get better postage discounts by taking your bulk mailings to the regional bulk mail center, called a "Sectional Center Facility" (SCF), that serves your area. SCFs are located in many major metro areas, so if you're near a major city, you should check to see if taking your mail to the SCF is worth your extra travel time. We can tell which SCF serves your area if you tell us your local zip code.

Remember, if you're doing full service barcoding, you must enter the information from your postage statement onto the USPS web site before you show up at the post office. To do this, go to the USPS Business Customer Gateway, log in, choose Mailing Services, then choose Postal Wizard. The information you need will be on your postage statement, plus you will need the beginning and ending serial number for your mailing. If you're using Postage $aver to prepare your mailing, you will get the serial number information from the screen message that appears after the barcoding process has finished.



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