Direct Mail

First Class Mail: What is it and How to Send It

By 1 April 2024April 15th, 2024No Comments
first class mail

First Class Mail

The USPS offers several mail options to individuals and businesses to get their letters and parcels delivered to the intended recipients smoothly. These mail options include first-class mail, priority mail, priority express mail, and several others. You can choose the option that best suits your needs and budget. If you want to conduct postcard marketing campaigns, you can send first-class mail—it is the cheapest option.

first class mail

Marketers are always looking for options that allow them to get their mail items delivered on time and at lesser costs. Moreover, in general, companies need to print and mail several transactional, compliance, and marketing mailpieces. Therefore, they should understand the USPS services in-depth and select the most effective mail option accordingly.

Since we have already established that first-class mail is the cheapest option to send anything locally, nationally, and internationally, you should also know that there are certain first-class mail size and weight restrictions. Hence, you might not be able to send everything through first class. The USPS first class mail costs are generally low, but they can add up if you don’t follow these requirements. Therefore, take the time to educate yourselves on first-class mail meaning, first-class mail postage, and the first-class mail requirements. These things will help you understand everything better and make the right choice.

What Is First Class Mail and What Is It Used For?

What is considered first-class mail? First-class mail is used to send envelopes containing bills, invoices, tax forms, correspondence, and more, as well as lightweight packages. You can send personal or business mail through the first class as long as the envelopes weigh nothing more than 3.5 oz and your parcels are below 13 oz. In fact, it is mandatory to send handwritten and typed materials, credit cards, invoices, and personalized business mail through either first-class or priority mail. We will come back to first-class vs. priority mail later. But, before that, we need to be clear on what is first-class mail.

Many small-scale and new businesses use first-class mail as the most common, popular, and cost-effective option. Plus, unlike USPS Marketing Mail, you need not worry about the minimum mailing volume, presorting requirements, or mailing permits.

Though first-class mail may seem like the most prioritized mail option, it is not. It is always given less priority than priority express and priority mail. So, what does first-class mail mean if it is not given the first or top priority? Basically, it is prioritized over second, third, and fourth-class mail options.

Second-class mail is used for sending periodicals, newspapers, and magazines that are printed at least five times a year. Similarly, third-class mail is for marketing mailings, flyers, etc.

Fourth-class mail is also called media mail and consists of DVDs, CDs, books, vinyl records, and other such things. The main point in second class, third-class, and media mail vs. first-class mail is the delivery speed.

People also often confuse USPS first class mail and standard mail. First-class mail includes postcards, letters, and lightweight packages, whereas standard or bulk mail includes circulars, bulletins, flyers, and newsletters.

All important documentation such as legal notices and forms are supposed to be sent via first-class mail—because it includes automatic mail forwarding and returns to sender options. These features come for free, and you don’t need to pay for them or avail of them separately.

Also Read: How Long Does it Take for Mail to Come

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Is First Class Mail the Same as Regular Mail?

Is first class mail regular mail? As a matter of fact, first-class mail is a regular class. We know that first class mail is a common option to send postcards, flats, letters, and lightweight parcels. So, whenever you affix a stamp on your mail and drop it in a mailbox, it is indeed first class.

Though the USPS first class mail option is considered one of the many USPS services, it is the basic one. So, all the mail items that individuals send to one another are first-class or regular mail. Plus, all postcards, letters, forms, legal documents, and other correspondence that businesses send out regularly are also considered regular mail. It is as simple as that.

What Are the Different Types of First Class Mail?

There are broadly three types of first-class mail. Individuals, companies, and marketers can make use of any of these types to mail conveniently. As we already know that you can send out envelopes and parcels up to a certain weight limit through first class mail. Hence, first-class mail and first-class mail package service are differentiated. As the name goes, first class mail is for all your envelopes and marketing materials weighing below 3.5 oz. The first-class mail parcel service allows you to send mail that weighs more than 3.5 oz but less than 13 oz. In some cases, the maximum weight is 15.99 oz. For sending mail abroad, you can use USPS first class mail international.

Now, let us get to the details of all the first-class mail types.

First-Class Mail

It is the most simple and cost-effective way to send postcards and letters. This option is regularly used by everyone. You need to purchase Forever stamps to mail anything via first-class mail. These stamps never expire. You can use them anytime in the future, even if the current postage rates at that time are higher. However, you are not eligible to get any refund while sending something in first-class mail. In fact, none of the first-class mail options offer refunds.

You can avail of this service through your post office or by using PostGrid‘s print and mail API. PostGrid is capable of identifying your needs and selecting the best mail option for you.

First-Class Mail International

Undoubtedly, first-class mail international is the cheapest way to send letters, postcards, and lightweight parcels to any international destination. You only need one Global Forever stamp to mail an item of up to 1 oz. Hence, you can easily mail to any country around the world at lower postal rates. Global Forever stamps also never expire, irrespective of the changes in postage rates.

First-Class Package Service

If your parcels weigh up to 13 oz, first-class package service is your most economical choice for sending parcels. But, if you use the first-class package service commercial option, you can send packages weighing up to 15.99 oz.

Commercial pricing is obviously cheaper than retail pricing. It is also available for first-class mail service, but only for customers who mail in bulk and are ready to prepare and sort mail as per the USPS requirements.

Other than First-Class Package Service Commercial, all the other first-class mail types are not open for inspection. The USPS can open and check the items sent under the commercial option to determine whether the paid postage is sufficient.

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First Class Mail Weight and Size Specifications

To avail of first-class mail rates, you must follow the weight and size specifications strictly. When we say strictly, it actually means that even a difference of 1 inch, or 1 oz, or less can change everything.

Let us first have a look at the first-class mail dimensions for retail items.

First-Class Mail Postcards

For postcards, the dimensions should be at least 3.5″ x 5″. However, take care that your postcards don’t exceed 4.25″ x 6″. Even a 0.1″ difference can lead to your postcards being non-mailable under first-class, as mentioned above. But that’s not it. You must also consider the thickness of your postcards. Use an index card to measure the thickness accurately. It should range between 0.007″ and 0.016″. Anything beyond these first-class mail size limits is non-mailable as postcards and subject to be treated as letters.

First-Class Mail Letters

The price paid for first-class mail letters is dependent on the weight. The maximum weight limit is 3.5 oz. The minimum size of letters is the same as that of postcards: 3.5″ x 5″. However, the maximum first-class mail envelope size is 6.125″ x 11.5″. The thickness should be within 0.009″ to 0.25″. Moreover, all envelopes should be rectangular in shape. While using the commercial mail option for sending first-class mail letters, the thickness should be within 0.007″ to 0.25″.

Letters that don’t meet these specified dimensions and shape requirements are non-machinable and might be charged a non-machinable surcharge. If a letter exceeds the dimensions, it is considered a flat (large envelope).

First-Class Mail Flats

The first-class mail weight limit for flats is 13 oz. Anything beyond 13 oz is sent as priority mail. The minimum dimensions for flats are 6.125″ x 11.5″ and the maximum dimensions are 12″ x 15″. The thickness can range between 0.25″ and 0.75″. Mail items that exceed these first-class mail dimensions for flats or are non-rectangular or rigid are considered Packages.

First-class mail large envelopes are usually used for sending oversized postcards and letters.

First-Class Package Service Parcels

Firstly, we will talk about retail parcels. The maximum weight of these packages should not exceed 13 oz. When the length and girth are combined, the parcel should not exceed 108″.

Coming to commercial parcels, the maximum weight for first-class mail can be 15.99 oz. They should be at least 5″ in length and 3.5″ in width. The thickness should be at least 0.007″. The maximum dimensions are 22″ x 18″ x 15″. Parcels that are in the form of rolls, triangles, tubes, and other shapes are subject to a non-mailable surcharge. To avoid paying extra, make sure that your parcels are not shaped irregularly.

None of your parcels should contain personal correspondence or documents unless they are related to the merchandise inside the parcels, for example—invoices, incidental advertising material, and receipts.

How Long Does First Class Mail Take to Deliver?

The estimated first class mail time is around 1 to 3 days. However, most local mail items are delivered in just one day. While planning a campaign or sending out mail in general, remember that these are just estimates, and the USPS does not guarantee the first-class mail delivery time explicitly. Refer to the USPS first-class mail time map to get an idea of the delivery time.

The distance between the post office where you dropped your mail items and the destination decides the delivery time. Naturally, the items to be delivered in the same state arrive much sooner than the ones to be delivered across the country. There are many reasons why your first-class mail cannot be delivered on time. The most common reasons are:

Severe Weather Conditions

It is not like the USPS stops delivering whenever there are rains. They continue with their operations even in such weather conditions. But, it is completely understandable that sometimes the weather is too bad to move from one place to another. Under such circumstances, the workers can’t help it and are compelled to take a break from their duties. All processes and deliveries are stopped completely in severe weather conditions or natural emergencies.

Sometimes, addresses are smudged in the rain, making it impossible to locate the mailing address and complete delivery. In such cases, the mail is returned to the sender, if possible. Again, these situations can cause delays.

Incorrect and Invalid Addresses

You might be the creator of this particular reason. Even a single wrong digit in your ZIP code may cause enough confusion to cause delivery delays. Hence, the USPS first-class mail time is also dependent on your actions.

While writing the mailing address on your postcards, letters, or parcels, make sure to double-check every detail. Write in legible handwriting so that the postal workers are able to understand the address. Moreover, the USPS address reading machines depend on your inputs to process and sort mail correctly. Therefore, if you do not have clear and legible handwriting, it is better to print address labels and stick them to your mail items.

For businesses, it can be difficult to verify large numbers of addresses for sending mail. PostGrid’s address validation API can help you standardize and verify your addresses in no time so that you can mail without any delays and other interruptions.

Federal Holidays

How long does first-class mail take? While answering this question, the USPS also mentions federal holidays. These are the days when the USPS offices are closed. Therefore, one should not expect to receive mail during any of these days. However, sometimes, some of the offices are open and might go ahead and complete certain deliveries. Again, a first-class mail delivery time map can give you an idea.

If you want something to be delivered on a particular day, make sure to drop it off at the post office or in a mailbox much in advance.

Backlogs At the Post Office or Sorting Facilities

It is not uncommon to see people sending postcards and letters to their loved ones during holidays. Generally, the post office sees a huge surge in the mail right from Thanksgiving until New Year’s. Even businesses are likely to send a huge number of marketing postcards and letters to their prospects and customers. Not to mention the rise in online shopping these days.

All these things lead to the post office facing backlogs. It is likely that postal workers struggle to meet this sudden demand. Although it is recommended that you mail a few days in advance, you should still expect delays. Holidays really challenge the USPS first-class mail delivery time. Therefore, many individuals and businesses consider sending their items via Priority Mail during the holidays.

Even when Covid-19 spread around the world, the USPS saw a significant rise in demand. Many people opted to shop online instead of going out and regularly sent mail to their close ones to stay in touch. It is during such times that the answer to the question, “How fast is first class mail?” doesn’t matter anymore. The USPS will complete deliveries as and when it can.

The USPS first-class mail calculator can help you determine the approximate mailing time approximately. It helps you know how long the first class mail takes to deliver so that you can mail accordingly.

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First Class Mail Costs

The first-class mail costs differ from one piece to another depending on the first-class mail type, size, weight, and more. First-class mail Forever stamps cost $0.55, which is currently the rate for 1 oz. The USPS first class mail rates for packages that weigh up to 13 oz starts at $4.

Postcards that are rectangular and fit within the specified dimensions cost $0.36 each. The rates for stamped postcards start at $0.40. Oversized postcards are treated as letters and cost at least $0.55. The cost to send first-class letters that are rectangular-shaped and are of standard size is $0.55. However, you need to pay an additional $0.20 for every additional ounce. Plus, if your letters are square-shaped, unusually shaped, or oversized, the first-class mail cost will be $0.75.

How much does first-class mail cost to send large envelopes or flats? The rates start at $1.00, and you need to pay $0.20 for each additional ounce.

The first-class mail postage rates to send out small packages start at $4. This price is for retail and only for the first 4 oz. The rate increases to $4.80 for the second 4 oz. Moving on to commercial, the first 4 oz cost $3.01 per parcel. For the second 4 oz, the prices start at $3.46.

For sending metered mail letters under the commercial option, you need to pay $0.51 for the first ounce. Each additional ounce costs $0.20.

All first-class mail costs depend on the weight, type of mailing, size, shape, method to pay postage, non-machinable surcharge, and more. Furthermore, the ZIP code from where you are mailing and to where also decides the prices significantly, in case of first-class mail package service. The prices for other services remain the same irrespective of the destination.

Businesses have started using print and mail APIs like PostGrid to get postal discounts on their first-class mail stamp costs. Mailing in bulk, presorting mail items, automation, and other such things can help you get huge discounts.

While talking about the USPS first class mail prices, you need to understand the concept of non-machinable items. There are some types of mail items that cannot be processed using machines. The USPS needs manpower for doing that. The factors that make an item non-machinable could be the texture (rigid, lumpy), shape (vertical, unusual, squared), or extras (clasps, buttons, strings, etc.). In these cases, the weight doesn’t matter. The item has to be sorted by a human being. Also, large envelopes that don’t fit in the machines need manpower to be sorted and processed. These things can increase the US postal rates of first class mail dramatically.

If you want to reduce first class postage rates, you can learn about presorted first-class mail. But, what is presorted first-class mail? If you need to mail 500 or more mail items, you can presort mail and avail of certain discounts. The addresses must be sorted as per their ZIP codes and must be CASS-certified and NCOA-updated.

How to Send First Class Mail?

There is nothing specific to know on how to send first class mail. It might seem very straightforward and simple to you. First of all, you prepare your mail item and stuff it into an envelope. Next, you address the envelope and affix a first-class stamp on it. We have already discussed to calculate how many stamps i need with rates. You then drop the first class mail envelope in a nearby mailbox or take it to the post office. In around three days, the mail is delivered to the intended recipient.

These steps are what you see. Let us find out what happens behind the scenes and how long does USPS first class mail take. How to ship first-class mail? The starting few steps are the same where you are the action taker. You write the correct mailing address on the first-class envelope and affix the right stamps. Then, you either drop the letter in the mailbox or take it to the post office in your area. What happens next is on the postal workers.

Your letters are sent to the Sectional Facility by the post office. This is where your letters are sorted according to their ZIP codes and delivery routes. It is then taken to the airport, where it is transported by air to the Sectional Facility of your mail destination. Once again, your mail items are sorted and prepared for delivery. After that, your mail is handed over to the postal worker who covers that particular delivery route where the mailing address is located. The worker then delivers the mail to the recipient’s doorstep or mailbox.

The entire process is pretty much the same as other mail options. However, all the transporting, processing and delivery happens according to the priority given to first class.

How to Track First Class Mail?

Is first-class mail tracking available, and if yes, how to track first-class mail? USPS tracking is only available for first-class mail package service—both retail and commercial. You need not pay anything extra for availing of tracking services while sending parcels via first-class mail. However, there are no USPS first-class mail tracking options available for other first-class mail types. While sending postcards, letters, and flats, you are not eligible to receive a tracking number from the USPS. But, some extra services can be availed of that offer some tracking information—like barcodes. First-class mail international tracking is available for parcels.

Also Read: How Long Does First Class Mail Take?

USPS First Class Vs. Priority Mail

First-class vs. priority mail is something that eCommerce merchants, marketers, and businesses ponder upon every second day. To be able to differentiate between the two main options and decide better, it is important to understand the differences between them clearly.

What is the difference between first-class and priority mail? Anything up to 15.99 oz can be mailed through first-class mail, except when the size and weight specifications cannot be followed. If your mail item is 16 oz and more, it has to be sent via priority mail. The maximum weight limit for priority mail is 70 lbs.

What is USPS priority mail? As the name goes, it is the mail option that receives top priority by the USPS. The postal workers collect, process, sort, and deliver priority mail items before any other items, including the ones under first-class mail. For sending something internationally, it is advisable to use priority mail as it can speed up the delivery process drastically. So far, we have discussed two differences between first class and priority mail. If you are concerned about speed, first-class mail vs. priority mail should not be a tough choice for you.

Undoubtedly, while deciding between the first-class package vs. priority mail, you would select priority mail because it offers better safety for your parcels and gets them delivered faster. However, there is a significant difference in the prices.

If you need to send something important and need to get it delivered within a specified time, it is recommended to use priority mail express. It is simply priority mail’s upgraded version. Obviously, the rates are higher than that of priority mail, but it guarantees delivery. Priority mail express is the fastest mail option to send something nationally. Sometimes, deliveries are also completed overnight for an extra fee. It is much more reliable than first-class and priority mail.

Additional First-Class Mail Services

You must have often heard of first-class certified mail. It is availing of the certified mail option while sending out a first-class mail item. Similarly, you can use several other additional services for an added fee. Certified mail allows senders to receive a receipt of mailing along with the proof of delivery. It is highly useful while sending important documents. Moreover, you can use the receipt of mailing and delivery confirmation as evidence in case of legal hassles.

Another service that you can use as an add-on while sending first-class mail is registered mail. It offers extra protection to your mail items along with providing you with proof of mailing and delivery.

Return receipt, collect on delivery, first-class mail insurance, and signature confirmation are some services that are only available for first-class package service. Hence, if you are sending standard postcards and letters, none of these services are available.

Is first class mail insured? If you are sending postcards, letters, and flats, then the answer would be no. It is because these things usually do not require insurance. To justify the low rates, the USPS has kept first-class mail plain and limited. Even first-class mail international does not offer any insurance. However, coming back to the difference between first-class and priority mail, the latter does offer insurance coverage of around $100 for domestic mailing and $200 for international mailing.

However, you can purchase insurance while sending parcels through first class mail. So in a way, the answer to “is USPS first class mail insured?” can be yes and no, subject to what you are mailing and through which mail type.

Wrapping Up

It can be difficult to keep track of US first class mail and other mail options. Determining which mail option to choose, calculating postage, and doing other related things can often be stressful. PostGrid’s automated direct mail solutions can help you handle USPS first class shipping and anything else that you need to get done.

PostGrid’s print and mail API allows companies to manage their offline communications smoothly and send out postcards, letters, and checks in an efficient way.

Contact us now to learn more on how PostGrid can simplify offline mailing for your company.

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