It’s a common question that many people have before heading out to the post office: “ How many stamps do i need for a letter? ” If you’re a postal worker or shipping clerk, you have no problem figuring out how many stamps per ounce of mail, but for the rest of us, figuring out just how much postage is needed can be frustrating and frankly, a waste of time. Since shipping has become an industry that is no longer solely managed and regulated by the U.S. Government, every shipping company is looking for a way to appeal to the needs of their customers, including the U.S. Postal Service (USPS)
How many stamps do I need?
According to The USPS Postal Service® Stamp.com Table
For many of us, its second nature to turn to the post office for our shipping needs, because it was the only source for shipping until recent years when companies like UPS, Fedex, and DHL started to break into the marketplace as comparable competitors. But, the U.S. Postal Service isn’t what is used to be anymore. Gone are the days when prices were easily understood, you didn’t need a stamp calculator, and a penny could take your package as far as you needed it to go. Now, you need to know the exact weight of your package and where it needs to be delivered, leaving you asking yourself “How many stamps do I need per ounce?” or “How many stamps do I need for a big envelope?”
The USPS is attuned to the needs of their customers, and in an attempt to solve the confusion, they have introduced the new Forever Stamp. With the introduction of the forever stamp, the U.S. Postal Service attempted to make answering these questions as easy as possible – instead of constantly worrying about adding one-cent or two-cent stamps to a letter when postage rates increase, you can simply use one Forever stamp and your one-ounce letter is good to go, no matter when you mail it.
As of Jan. 17, 2016 (when new postal rates went into effect), the current price of a forever stamp is $0.49 and even if the USPS raises the price of the forever stamp in the future, they have promised to honor all previously sold stamps as having equal value. This takes the guesswork out of the previous postage system where you would have to buy stamps of different values to piece together enough postage to send a letter or postcard; depending on the shipping rate at the time.
However, what if you’re not just mailing a typical letter back home or a resume and cover letter to a prospective employer and your mail requires more than the maximum allotted size and weight that is covered by one forever stamp? Around the holidays, for example, you might find yourself with some irregular size cards or packages that are just a little too heavy to be considered ordinary mail. Maybe you want to send postcards to friends and family from your favorite vacation destination or send an old friend a letter overseas.
All of these situations leave people searching the internet for answers to questions such as
“ How many stamps do I need for a 9×12 envelope?”
“ How many stamps do I need for a large envelope?”
More commonly, people just want to know how many stamps per ounce or how many pieces of paper can fit into an ordinary sized envelope before the weight limited is exceeded.
The implementation of the Forever stamp set the new standard in the postage industry because people no longer have to worry about the fluctuating price of postage. The age-old question- “How much are stamps?“- might have been answered, but it still does nothing in the way of answering the question- “How many stamps do I need to send my package?” and raises a new question- “How many Forever stamps do I need to send my package?”
You still need to do a bit of measuring and weighing to determine exactly how many forever stamps you’ll need to order. There are two primary characteristics relevant to shipping through the USPS – size and weight. They will ultimately determine how much you’ll have to pay for stamps and how many stamps you’ll need to purchase before you plan your next shipment.
As a rule of thumb, all regular-size letters that are less than 1 oz. in weight will require only one Forever stamp ($0.49). Each additional ounce will require $0.22 in additional postage, up to a maximum of 3.5 ounces, at which point you will pay the Large Envelope postage rate instead.
As a rule of thumb, a regular-size letter will have a minimum height of 3-1/2 inches and a maximum height of 6-1/8 inches; a minimum length of 5 inches and a maximum length of 11-1/2 inches; and a minimum thickness of .0007 inch and a maximum thickness of 1/4 inch. The standard paper size is typically 8-1/2 inches in width and 11 inches in height, only weighing about .16 ounces each. If your paper is properly folded to meet the dimensions, that means that the typical envelope can hold up to five sheets of standard copy paper before it reaches the one stamp limit.
Things get trickier, however, if your letter is shaped irregularly or if it is made from a heavier stock. For any item that is larger than the maximum size in length, width or thickness, you will need to use Large Envelopes (also known as “flats”) unless you can somehow manage to fold that paper to meet the standard letter size specifications. But, in the case that you are mailing an important piece of paper that cannot be folded, such as a certificate, diploma, or other important legal document, you’re mail falls into a different rate bracket known as a large letter.
The large letter stamp rate starts at $0.98 for up to 1 ounce and increases by $0.22 for each additional ounce in weight. After 13 ounces, you will then have to pay Priority Mail rates, which can get quite expensive, and quick.
Keep in mind, there are certain shapes – such as squares – that require additional postage. The current “bad envelope” mail stamp rate is $0.22. And if your letter is too rigid or not uniformly thick, it may require this additional $0.22 in mail stamp postage as well. Depending on the actual size of the document that you are mailing, it may be wise to consider placing your square into a rectangular envelope to save on shipping costs. In the case that your square exceeds the regular letter size, it won’t matter how you package it because you will end up paying the same for “bad mail” as you do for a large letter. In this case, if the document is not delicate, consider folding it to fit into the standard size letter and save yourself a few cents.
If you are mailing media (think DVDs or CDs) instead of paper, you will need to use the USPS Media Mail rate. For example, a 1 lb. package traveling through zones 1 or 2 will cost $2.72.
The downside to paying the additional media mail rate is that your package will arrive slower than you anticipate, but the positive side of this coin is that it will arrive intact because media mail is handled more delicately than letter mail and often requires a padded envelope. Media mail is an excellent alternative to shipping other items not classified as media that would otherwise be sent Priority Mail because it is quite a bit cheaper than the packaging and postage.
Then, there’s the matter of where you are mailing your letter. If you are mailing the letter overseas, the cost of a First-Class Mail International Letter is $1.20. That’s a starting point for mailing your letter overseas. However, the USPS has developed a Global Forever Stamp that follows the same guidelines as the regular letter mail. Each Global Forever stamp costs $1.15 and can be used for letters and large envelopes up to 1 oz. in weight. After the 1 oz. mark, additional Global Forever stamps will be required in the same way that the domestic forever stamps are; each additional ounce will require additional postage, up to a maximum of 4 pounds.
What about the postcard stamp?
If you’re mailing a postcard domestically, the First-Class Mail rate is only $0.35. This rate is for a postcard that has a maximum size of 6 inches long by 4-1/3 inches high by .016 inch thick (i.e. the types of postcard usually sold in stores catering to tourists and college students). Large postcards, with a maximum size of 11-1/2 inches long by 6-1/8 inches high by 1/4 inch thick require $0.49 in First-Class Mail postage (the same cost as a Forever stamp).
If you’re going to be sending larger packages or need a faster shipping time, it may be wise to perform a rate comparison with other shipping companies before setting your sights on the USPS however, in terms of letters, the USPS is probably the most effective and cost efficient choice. Letters typically arrive in 1-3 days, while media mail and other irregular packages can take several days longer but if you can manage to send your letter under the weight limit and within the height and weight dimensions, the forever stamp is the way to go. It’s a fixed rate that you can potentially lock in for future mailings.
Now that you have a grasp on how the shipping and postage standards are set by the USPS, you still need to buy stamps. If you already know how many stamps you will need to send your letter, postcard, media mail, or other irregular mail, you can take advantage of the Forever stamp program and if you plan to send a lot of mail regularly, you may want to think about preordering your stamps.
Stamps can be preordered two ways- in a book or on a roll. But, before you order, you’ll want to know how many stamps are in a book and how many are on a roll. A book consists of 20 stamps and a roll comes with 100 stamps.
You can order any of them as domestic, global, or forever stamps and the USPS makes it easy to order them online so you never have to worry about waiting in line to buy your stamps. Also, the more stamps you order, the cheaper they get so if you’re a sole proprietor or just someone who sends a lot of mail, you may want to consider buying in bulk. It will save you time and money in the long-run.
If you’re like many U.S. residents, you may just decide to take your chances by affixing an extra Forever stamp or two to whatever letter or postcard you’re mailing and be willing to risk the fact that you may have overpaid the cost of postage. It’s a safe bet if you’re sending a domestic letter, but it can be costly if you’re constantly sending letters internationally or if you’re the type of person that prefers a letter in the mail rather than an email or phone call. That’s why it’s important to know the true cost of sending a letter via the USPS, what dimensions they require for each type of mail, and how you can save yourself time and money by preordering stamps.
So, the next time you find yourself asking-
“How many stamps do I need at the USPS?”
-just remember that you’re not the only one asking this question. Internet search results are proof that people are just not informed on the current cost of postage, the cost of shipping, or the required dimensions for specific shipping options. And, that’s alright because not everyone is a postal worker or shipping clerk, but you should be informed on the current USPS standards if you want to save yourself the trouble of a returned letter or waste your time standing in line to find out how much it will be to send a postcard while you’re on vacation.