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How to Return Mail to Sender

By 31 March 2024April 16th, 2024No Comments
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How to Return Mail to Sender

Did you ever want to return postal mail but couldn't do it because you did not know how to return mail to the sender? Believe it or not, this is a common predicament most of us face, and many times we may have just given up and didn't even bother to try because most of us figured that it was too much trouble. But, once you know what the steps involved in sending return mails are, you will realize that it is not nearly as hard as you might think.

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There are many reasons why we might want to mail to the sender. Maybe you received a mail addressed to someone who does not live there, or maybe you received a mail with the wrong address by accident, or maybe you simply don't want to receive the mail from the sender. Typically these are the most common reasons why you would want to return a mail to the sender. However, this may not always be the case, and the recipient may have his or her own reasons for returning the mail.

This article discusses how you can return mails. We also discuss the different scenarios where you send a return mail to the sender. We further dive into the details of return mails and even take you through the steps involved in sending a return mail to the sender under the different circumstances mentioned above. Furthermore, we also take a look into the finer details such as USPS return mail, and the cost involved in sending them and even discuss the same for private mail carriers like UPS.

Return Mail To Sender Through USPS

As we've briefly discussed above, there are various reasons why a recipient would choose to send a return mail to the sender. Below we discuss the three major circumstances when the receiver of the mail is edged to send out a return mail to its sender. We further take you through the steps you need to take to ensure that the return mail is sent back to its origin.

So, in case you want to Return to Sender USPS, someone you knew is not living at your address anymore.

Also, if you are one of the curious minds and thinking about How to Return to the sender USPS- Well, the process is simpler and involves the following quick steps:

  1. Write Down “Not At This Address” On The Mailpiece
  2. Return The Mail to Your Carrier
  3. Use a USPS Mail Collection Box

Let us now dig a little deeper into these steps!

Correct Address But Wrong Addressee

This often happens when the recipient has recently moved to a new place and ends up receiving mails addressed to the old residents. In such cases, the address on the envelope will be accurate and deliverable; however, the addressee is no longer a resident at the address. The reason why this happens is that the old tenants who resided at the place before you didn't follow through on the change of address order.

We understand this can be frustrating, especially given the fact that you are forced to clean up after someone else's mess. That being said, no one wants to receive mail regularly that they have no interest in. Therefore it becomes your need to put an end to it. Thankfully the process is straightforward and can be done in just three simple steps.

Step 1: Write Down “Not At This Address” On The Mailpiece

The first thing you need to do is to write down “Not At This Address” on the envelope. Many people often make the mistake of writing “Return to Sender” or something similar on the envelope, considering that it is, after all, a return mail. However, that is not the right wording that you should be using in this situation. You can follow the same step even if the postal mail in question is a parcel.

Another important point that you should keep in mind when sending a return mail is that you should always ensure that any barcodes on the mail are defaced. If you fail to do so, there is a good chance that the parcel or envelope will end up getting delivered back to your address AGAIN. This is a common mistake made by people who send a return mail and must be avoided every time.

In the meantime, it is also important to NOT cross off the address part because only then can the mail carrier understand that the addressee is no longer a resident at the given address. And if the problem still persists, you need to make your mail carrier aware of the situation. You can also choose to get in touch with the local Post Office to fix the issue.

Step 2: Return The Mail to Your Carrier

The best thing that can happen to you if you receive mail that is addressed to someone else (an old tenant in this case) is if you are home when the mail arrives. This way, you can hand them back the envelope or package straight back to them and avoid any confusion about sending the return mail. You need to ensure that you clearly explain that the addressee is no longer a resident there.

You will still have to complete the first step, which is to write down “Not At This Address” on the envelope before you can give it back to the delivery person. But as luck would have it, we are almost never home when the mail arrives. And that's okay because even if you are not home when the mail comes, all you have to do is put the mailpieces back into the mailbox.

However, if you do put the mailpieces back in the mailbox for the delivery person to pick up the next time they are there, then make sure that you erect the red flag. The red flag tells the delivery person that there is something in the mailbox that the mail carrier needs to collect when they are out and about doing their rounds the next time.

Step 3: Use a USPS Mail Collection Box

It is not necessary that everyone have a mail carrier to whom they can give back the mailpiece nor is it possible for everyone to have a mailbox at their place of residence either. Under this circumstance, the best option available for you would be to make use of a USPS mail collection box. Once you have completed the first step and put the mail inside a USPS mail collection box, an employee from the local Post Office will come and collect the mail.

Once you have written the right wording on the envelope or package and delivered it to the nearest USPS mail collection box, you have done your part. Now, the USPS employee will collect the mail from the collection box and either forward it to the right address or have the letter returned to the sender of the mail. The USPS collection boxes are almost too easy to find as they are pretty much everywhere, but if you want to find the nearest one, you can always use the “Find Locations” page on the USPS's official website.

Delivery Made to the Wrong Address

Sometimes, although not often, you may receive postal mails that is clearly not addressed to you or your residence address. This usually happens when the mail carrier places the mail inside your mailbox or pushes it through your door by accident. These accidents are only human, and you probably shouldn't worry too much about them. Returning such postal mails or packages is pretty easy, and the steps for doing that are given below.

Step 1: Put The Mail Back in The Mailbox

The first thing to do after you notice that you have received mail with the wrong postal address on it is to put the mail straight back inside your mailbox. You'll also need to make sure that the red flag is up in the mailbox too. The flag will tell the mail carrier that there is outgoing mail waiting for them to be picked up the next time they come to your place for delivery.

However, the returning process will be different if the mail you receive is a Priority Mail Express by mistake, in which case, you'll have to make a call to 1-800-275-8777. Once you get on the line, ask them to connect you to the Priority Mail Express Reporting Unit. When the linnet gets connected just tell them about the misdelivery, and they will let you know what to do next.

Step 2: Hand The Mail to The Delivery Person

In case you do not wish to leave the mailpiece inside the mailbox, you can always give it directly to the delivery person the next day. However, there is a small catch if you want to do this. You will have to stay home and wait for the delivery person to come to your neighborhood. This can be a problem if you are a working professional, and then there is also the chance of you still missing the delivery person, which can not be ruled out.

But, provided that you are home and you do not miss the delivery person, you can simply hand over the misdelivered mailpiece to him/her. You'd still need to explain that the mail was delivered to the wrong address, and the USPS personnel will sort it out from there. Furthermore, you can even take parcels, packages, and envelopes directly to the nearest Post Office. That way, you could just return them on your way to work or do errands. The method of sending the return mail is solely based on your convenience.

Step 3: Do Note Write/Tamper The Envelope or Package

When mail is mistakenly delivered to your address, you need not write anything on the envelope or package. In fact, writing on the envelope or package that is already addressed correctly can only raise confusion and prevent the mail carrier from delivering it to the right address. So, it is best if you don't write anything on the mailpiece that could disrupt the delivery process. In the case of a misdelivery such as this one, the mistake was made by the mail carrier, and the onus is upon them to sort it out.

Therefore, you don't have to write the standard “Return to Sender” message on this particular return mail type. This also means that you should not cover or cross out the address, nor should you tamper with the mailpiece in any way. However, you can paste a sticky note on the mailbox to state what's inside and also mention that it was delivered to the wrong address as it can be greatly helpful to the delivery person.

Mail You do Not Wish to Receive

The last type of mail that we USPS return to the sender is the one that you simply do not wish to receive. In this case, both the address and the addressee are accurate on the mailpiece, but the intended recipient has the choice not to receive it and have it returned to the sender. Below we discuss the steps to return mail to the sender and how to do it right, so you don't have to go through it again.

Step 1: Write Down “Refused” On The Mailpiece

As the recipient, you have the right to refuse pretty much any postal mail that is sent to you and have them returned to the sender. However, there are a few steps involved in this, and the first one is to write down “Refused” on the envelope or package you receive. Once you've written it down on the mailpiece, you can then give it back to your mail carrier as soon as you can.

One important thing that you need to know and remember is that you must not open the mail if you intend to return it. And no, carefully resealing the envelope will not work either. The package or envelope needs to be intact at all times. Compromising the integrity of the mailpiece would mean that you have taken responsibility for it, and it becomes no longer returnable.

Step 2: Mark The “Refused” Box For Accountable Mail

Not everyone is familiar with the term “Accountable Mail”. They are mailpieces that require you to sign in order to receive them. Although accountable mails are often important, you should still be able to refuse them depending on their content. If you do decide to return an accountable mail, you need to place a checkmark in the “Refused” box on the notice that will be given to you by the delivery person.

Some of the most common kinds of accountable mail that you may receive are certified mail, registered mail, priority mail express, and so on. However, it would be best if you kept in mind that you can not refuse mail once you have received and signed for the mail. If you do receive the mail and sign for it but then decide that you want to have it returned, then you will have to place it into a new envelope or package and then pay the postage for having it sent back.

Step 3: Repackage The Mailpiece if You Have Opened it.

There are many instances when we let our curiosity get the better of us and tear open our postal mails as soon as we get our hands on them. It is an understandable mistake that we all make but, regardless of our intentions, once a mail has been opened, you can return it, at least not in its existing state. You will need to put the opened mail in a new envelope or package before you can return the same to the sender.

Packaging the open mail in a fresh envelope or package means that you will obviously have to treat the mail as a new one, and this means paying for the fresh package. That being said, you may be able to send the mail for free in case you are returning unwanted or damaged merchandise. The sellers usually provide you with a prepaid shipping label in case you receive an unwanted or damaged product. If they don't provide a prepaid shipping label, then they will most likely pay you back for the postage.

Do I Need to Pay Anything to Return the Mail to the Sender? 

No, there's no need to pay anything to return a mail to the sender. USPS allows users to return unwanted and misdelivered mail by writing “Refused” on the mail and sending it back to the postal company and sending via a mailbox. 

You cannot return certified, insured, registered, and collect on-delivery (COD) mail. 

What to Do When the Return to Sender Message Doesn't Work?

There could be some instances where the “Return to sender” won't work. It is a frustrating experience. Yet, it would help if you prepared yourself to do something about it immediately. 

The best advice is to send a request to the United States Postal Service. 

Their hard-working employees will do everything possible to resolve the issue. Write a professional and seriously toned letter to your nearest Post Office. 

Request them to stop sending unnecessary letters, parcels, and packages. They can help you out to prevent this in the future. 

How Long Does it Take to Return mail to the sender? 

The time for returning the mail depends on the mailing service the sender uses for the mailpiece. A mail class can impact the delivery time, such as a Change of Address or Hold. 

Some mail pieces also need the intended recipient present during the delivery. The postal carrier must leave a notice if this person is unavailable.      

Also Read: How Long Does Regular Mail Take from State to State?

How to Change Your Address So Your Mail Reaches You? 

If you are receiving unknown mail, it indicates someone else could be getting mail meant for you. No one likes to miss out on vital mail. The best best to avoid this headache is to change your address with the post office. 

You can do the process quickly and easily online, in person, or over the phone. After verifying your identity, the Post Office will only charge you a $1 fee for changing your address. 

An individual changing their address also needs to inform additional parties. It includes anyone who might reach you via physical mail. 

For example; 

  • Bank and credit card companies 
  • Utility providers 
  • State and federal agencies 
  • Phone and internet providers 
  • Insurance companies 

Is It Illegal to Open Someone's Mail?

Yes, it is a misdemeanor or felony to open or tamper with someone else's mail. The U.S. Code § 1708 makes messing with mail that doesn't belong to you illegal. Throwing away such mail is an act of tampering. 

You can only write “Not at this: Return to Sender” while possessing the mail.  

How to Deal with Return Mail? 

An increase in return mail can cause serious problems for an organization. Ignoring it can lead to financial losses, potential fraud, operational disbalance, and customer dissatisfaction. Return mail often contains sensitive information, especially in the healthcare and finance industry. 

Professionals must follow these tips to handle return mail efficiently; 

Keep the Right Information While Sending Mail 

This foremost step can stop returning mail in the first mail. All you need is accurate information while sending a mail. Ensure the postal code is correct and there is no unnecessary gap in the data. 

You can establish a strict review process at entry and reduce return mail. Data errors and confusion are the primary reasons behind return mail. Ensure that your staff has sufficient information before sending a mail. 

Businesses Must Keep Up With Changing Addresses

Millions of people change their addresses every year. Organizations must keep themselves up-to-date with the NCOA address data. The National Change of Address databases are responsible for helping senders with the latest address details. 

It can help you re-engage with active and lost customers. Many companies reduce their wastage from non-delivery of mailings and parcels with the help of an NCOA database. 

Ensure the Invoices Reach the Addressee 

Return mail with invoices could be a significant challenge for businesses. Since these bills are due, it can significantly impact the cash flow. 

You cannot impose a penalty if an invoice never reaches the consumer. It is vital to ensure you deliver these mail to the correct address with the help of an address verification solution. A delivery report is necessary to get the peace of mind. 

Keep a Close Eye on USPS Penalties 

Return mail processing leads to loss of revenue. You can monitor expenses spent on USPS penalties on return mail. A company needs additional help if the costs keep on increasing. 

Mail regeneration can make an organization lose hundreds of dollars. USPS can impose a hefty fine if a company cannot meet the 70% mailing address accuracy threshold. Such organizations may need a surcharge of 7 cents per mail piece. 

Maintain Data Safety and Security 

Malicious attackers could target you If you are handling sensitive information in your mail. These hackers can breach the data security of your mailings. They can misuse addresses to lead to return mail intentionally. 

You can prevent such situations by identifying incorrect addresses in the first place. A smooth communication line is necessary among stakeholders to avoid malicious actors. 

Outsource Return Mail to an Experienced Vendor 

Only a few organizations have sufficient staff to handle their mailroom properly. You can save countless hours and effort by outsourcing and focusing on other vital tasks. 

For example, an address verification tool can be a total time saver while hunting down correct addresses. 

These solutions can also provide tailor-made features suitable for your firm's unique needs. 

Check for Compliance Measures 

Many organizations violate compliance measures while managing return mail. For example, financial companies must adhere to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA). This compliance states everything about fraud with the change of address. 

The risk of noncompliance can increase with delays to return mail processing. Ensure every stakeholder knows about the consequences of such acts.

Return Mail To Sender Through FedEx

USPS may be the world's largest postal system, but we can ignore the big private players when it comes to postal mailing. FedEx is one of the most popular private mail carriers in the US, and it is the trusted postal mail partner for a vast number of companies and the preferred choice of mail carrier for many individuals as well.

Given its popularity in the US, it is essential that we cover the return-to-sender mail for FedEx. Below we discuss the process to return mail to the sender via FedEx. We take you through the step-by-step process in detail and answer important questions in your mind like what to do with mail delivered to the wrong address.

Refusing a Delivery by FedEx

The best way to refuse a package delivered to you by FedEx is to do it in person. Naturally, this would mean that you'd have to wait for the FedEx people to arrive at your doorstep with the package or if you just happen to be home when the delivery is made. The highlight of refusing the FedEx mail in person is that you do not have to go through the return process. In case the package requires your signature, you can simply choose not to sign for the package and inform the delivery person that you want to refuse the shipment.

Furthermore, it's also worth noting that if no one is available at the address to sign for the package, then FedEx, by default, will consider the package as refused but, they will make at least three delivery attempts before marking it as “refused.” If the decision has already been made that you don't need the package delivered to your address, then FedEx also allows you to refuse the package beforehand. You can refuse the packages still in transit by calling 1-800-Go-FedEx and telling the FedEx representative, and simply inform them that you want to refuse the package.

Getting a FedEx Return Label

To return a mail via FedEx, you'll most likely need a FedEx return label, and in the case of eCommerce transactions, the seller often provides you with the return label. This return label may be free, or the seller may choose to deduct the amount from your refund. Before returning a FedEx mail, the first thing you need to do is to check whether a prepaid return label is placed inside the package cover or included in your invoice.

If you do find a prepaid printed return label, then all that's left to do is to stick it on a shipping box and send it back to the sender. In some cases, the printed return label will not be provided with the package, but it might come with the option to print the FedEx return labels, which are usually obtainable from the order/return section of the seller's website. It is also best if you check the return policy of the seller before you actually send the return mail.

Purchasing FedEx Postage

If the sender does not supply you with a FedEx return label, you have the option to purchase one yourself. You can buy the FedEx return mail either from the FedEx website or from a physical mailing location. Buying the FedEx return label from the website will require you to sign up for a FedEx Ship Manager account. This means that you'll also have to provide some personal information and add a valid payment method. Once the deed is done, you can log in to the Ship Manager from where you can enter the sender and recipient information, compare your shipping options from FedEx, make the necessary payment, and print your return label.

Some of you may not be comfortable with creating an account online or sharing your details with the FedEx website, or maybe you simply want to create an account online. Regardless of what your reason is for not getting the return label online, you have the option to directly visit the nearest FedEx office, FedEx Ship Center, or any other FedEx-authorized shipping center to buy postage for the return mail and also have it mailed from the same location. Some of these FedEx locations also handle repackaging for you and provide you with all the shipping materials you may need. Finally, you must also ensure that you get a receipt that proves you have shipped the package and also for tracking it.

In-Person FedEx Returns

In-person FedEx returns refer to the dropping of your return mails at any FedEx return location. You can easily find the nearest FedEx return locations by visiting the FedEx website and accessing the “Locations” menu. If you allow access to your location, the FedEx website will automatically detect it and give you a list of FedEx locations that are nearest to you. The website will give you the full details for the FedEx return locations, including their address, and working hours, and even mention any restrictions on what can be shipped.

Apart from the FedEx return locations, you can also make use of the FedEx Dropbox that you can find outside local businesses. If your package is not too big in dimensions, then you may simply drop your FedEx return mail on these drop boxes at your own convenience. If the package is a big one in terms of dimensions, then you could always visit a FedEx Office, ShipSite, or OnSite location and leave it with a FedEx representative. It would be best if you check beforehand what the maximum package weight and size are so you can avoid any unnecessary confusion and inconvenience.

FedEx Package Pickup

FedEx has a package pickup option for return mails which is often used when the package is too big or simply inconvenient to drop off. As you may have already guessed, this comes with a fee; however, you will get an exception provided that you have a prepaid FedEx Ground return label. You can schedule this free pickup via FedEx's special pickup page. However, it is worth noting that this won't work for FedEx Express packages.

Now, if you want to set up a pick for a price, then you can go to FedEx Ship Manager, from where you can find the “Schedule & Manage Pickups” page. Once you reach the page, you'll be asked to fill in some details about your shipment. You'll also need to specify the pickup location and pay for the same on this page. Similarly, you can set up the pickup by calling 1-800-Go-FedEx. Once the pick is set up, you'll get a confirmation number.

Return Mail To Sender Through UPS

UPS is another major mail carrier in the US, and similar to FedEx, they are partnered with major businesses across the country. UPS provides multiple options for return mail that can be used both before and after delivery. Below we discuss how to return mail to the sender using USPS and the various options that are available for you to do this.

Refusing a Delivery by UPS

Similar to FedEx, you can also say refuse to accept the package from the delivery person and ask them to return the package to the sender without having to pay a return shipping fee. However, it is recommended that you don't wait for the package to reach your doorstep to have it returned. Ideally, it's best if you can inform them beforehand about the return mails. As with FedEx, the package needs to be unopened for you to return it. Furthermore, in the event that no one is home during the delivery, UPS sends you an InfoNotice with a tracking number. You can enter this tracking number on the UPS website from where you can choose to return the package to the sender. If you want to arrange for a pickup, you also have the option to call UPS at 1-800-742-5877.

Getting a UPS Return Label

The UPS return label is similar to the one we discussed in FedEx. UPS often deals with eCommerce deliveries, and in such cases, you would have to start by initiating the return on the sender/seller's website. Similar to what we've seen in FedEx, UPS also has a return label that may be placed inside the package or in the invoice, or you could generate a return label online from the UPS website and have it printed yourself.

Shipping UPS Return Mail

Returning mail via UPS is pretty easy for a UPS Ground or 2nd Day Air Package. Depending on your convenience, you could drop it off at the nearest UPS store or put it in a Dropbox, or you can even take it to UPS Access Point. Some UPS mails can even be returned through the local Post Office or USPS collection box. You also have the option to contact UPS or visit their website to set up a pickup for your return mail. Similar to FedEx, the pickup item needs to be particularly bulky or highly inconvenient for a drop-off to qualify for a pickup. However, this will cost you money, and it may be costly depending on your unique requirements.


Return mail can be confusing and even challenging if you are not familiar with the ins and out of it. There are more than one scenarios under which the addressee of a mail may choose to return mail to the sender. Furthermore, there are also more than one mail carriers that may have its own unique return processes, and it is important that you understand them. However, USPS still remains the most utilized and reliable postal mail partner to enterprises and individuals alike.

Companies of all sizes try their best to avoid return mails at all costs because it can directly affect their business. Although there is not much the sender can do if the addressee (or customer) simply does not wish to receive the mail or package, they can optimize the process by avoiding misdelivery. To do that, companies must employ advanced address verification tools such as PostGrid that can make sure that their direct mail reaches the intended audience at all times.

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