If it feels like the USPS is always bumping up the price of stamps (on what feels like an almost annual basis now) it’s because the cost of first-class postage (and all other postage, for that matter) has definitely increased quite a bit in our lifetime – and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon.
This can make things kind of tricky when you’ve purchased books of stamps that are now years old, stamps that no longer represent the full cost of first-class postage simply because the price has been climbing.
To better help you navigate the world of postage these days, and to let you know what stamps are going to cost (at lease what they cost in 2021 until the next price increase, anyway) we’ve put together this detailed guide.
How Much Are Stamps?
In late 2020, the USPS announced that they were going to raise the price of postage – though they were clear to let everyone know that they weren’t changing the price of First Class Forever Stamps (the postage required to send a single letter that weighs in at 1 ounce or less).
No, those First Class Forever Stamps are going to stay pinned at $0.55 (for now, anyway). The post office is also letting people know that a single piece, 1 ounce flat rate envelope will ship for just one dollar, too.
The prices that are seeing increases, however, are the cost of each additional ounce of weight tucked inside of a first-class envelope. The price of bumps from $0.15 per additional ounce up to $0.20 per additional ounce, with another single penny increase ($0.50 to $0.51) for those that are sending single ounce metered mail, too.
Even postcards are seeing their price increase (by a penny), something that hasn’t been done in a number of years even as the price of first-class postage has climbed higher and higher.
To give everyone a better idea of how much stamps are climbing in 2021, here’s a quick breakdown:
- First-class postage stays at $0.55 (the same as 2020)
- Additional ounces of mail (first-class mail) see a five cent increase, from $0.15 to $0.20
- Metered mail is seeing a single penny increase from 2020
- Flat rate envelopes are sticking at the one dollar per envelope fee for right now
Domestic shipping postage prices are increasing in 2021, with Priority Mail seeing an average increase of 3.6% from 2020.
Priority Mail Express is being increased as well, but only by 2.5% over 2020 postage prices. Parcel Select Ground sees a really modest increase of 1.3%, with Media Mail prices increasing by 3.5% from 2020 to 2021.
The biggest increase for domestic shipping postage prices, though, is the cost of First Class Package Services. This is increasing 6.5% from 2020, the biggest single year jump in quite a while.
Priority Mail International postage prices are going to increase by 5.1%, with Priority Mail Express International seeing an increase of 3.6% over 2020 postage prices.
First Class Package International Services are increasing by almost 5% (4.8%, to be exact) compared to the 2020 prices, too.
How Many Stamps Do I Need to Buy?
Figuring out exactly how many stamps you’ll need to buy to send something through the mail is relatively simple and straightforward, provided that you are sending something in an envelope that you can easily way.
Anything that can be sent via First Class mail in a 1 ounce envelope is going to ship for the price of a single Forever Stamp. Each additional ounce is going to add another $0.20 of postage required, which means a second Forever Stamp attached to an envelope up until five extra ounces have already been added.
Add six extra ounces to an envelope and a third Forever Stamp will need to be attached!
As far as postage for shipping and packages are concerned, that’s all going to have to be handled on a case-by-case basis with customers paying for the full postage to ship something before that package makes it into the USPS shipping infrastructure.
There’s no stamps attached in that kind of situation!
How Much is Postcard Postage?
It’s not all that common for postcard postage to get an increase alongside traditional first-class stamp prices.
The last time that we saw postage increase in price was in 2015 when postcards bumped up to $0.35 for postage. The following year, though, the price dropped back down to $0.34 (and held that price through 2017 as well) before bumping back up to $0.35 in 2018 – a price that postcards have been pegged at until 2021.
Now, though, the price of postcard postage has gone up a penny to $0.36.
How long this price will last is anyone’s guess, though.
We might even see the price of postcard postage drop year the way it did in 2016!
How Often Does the Price of Postage Go Up?
While the price of stamps has climbed pretty consistently throughout the history of the United States Postal Service, there’s no real rhyme or reason that dictates how these prices are going to jump – or by how much.
For example, in 1981 the price of first-class postage stamps was $0.18. By the time 1991 rolled around (10 years later) the price had climbed up to $0.29 – a difference of $0.11.
Between 1991 and 2001, though, the price of a first-class postage stamp went from $0.29 to $0.34. That’s a difference of just five cents over another 10 year stretch of time!
Between 2001 and 2011 the price of first-class postage stamps jumps from $0.34 up to $0.44 (a $0.10 jump), and between 2011 and 2021 the price has climbed from $0.44 up to $0.55 where it sits right now.
Some years the price goes up, some years the price stays the same, and (as we just highlighted with postcard postage) sometimes the price for stamps and mailing a letter actually drops.
There’s a lot of unpredictability with how much stamps are going to cost, with the only real constant and consistent thing being that over enough time the price will inevitably increase.
Who Sets the Prices of Stamps?
The United States Congress is responsible for handling the postage rates of the United States Postal Service, something that they signed into law back in the 1970s when a number of major USPS postal reforms were packaged into a “omnibus” piece of legislation.
In 1974 the USPS was essentially re-created from scratch, though obviously there was no interruption of service and a lot of the same solutions that the USPS offered at the time were still available – and continue to be available today.
During this 1974 reformation of the organization, though, Congress gave themselves the ability to set postage rates. This allowed them to peg the cost of postage at the rate of inflation, making sure that (all things created equally) postage prices never got too high or too low.
Can I Use Older, Less Expensive Stamps for Current Postage?
Believe it or not, postage stamps never “expire” and you’ll have the ability to use even ancient stamps provided by the USPS as postage – provided that they are in good, clean, readable condition!
It sounds crazy to use your great-grandmothers stamp collection to send a letter to someone across the country, but you could absolutely do that if you wanted to (though the value of collectible stamps would far exceed the cost of a current Forever Stamp that’s only $0.55).
The USPS has full discretion to determine whether or not stamps are in good, clean, and readable condition, though.
If you’ve attached stamps that are discolored, damaged, or obviously in less than ideal condition the USPS may reject your letter out right, returning the envelope to your address (the sender), and requiring you to attach it from kinds of postage to your envelope for them to actually handle it in the mail.
As a general rule, it’s not a bad idea to use any First Class stamps you have available on your envelopes provided they have been issued within the last 15 years or so. Forever Stamps (something that we dig little deeper into in just a moment) make this whole process a lot easier than it ever used to be in the past.
What are Forever Stamps?
In 2007, the United States Postal Service rolled out the very first iteration of the Forever Stamp program.
These stamps were originally intended to be valid to cover the cost of first-class postage to matter how expensive postage might get in the future. This means that a $0.41 Forever Stamp purchased in 2007 would be perfectly fine to cover the $0.55 first-class postage for a letter mailed in 2021.
Because of the popularity of the Forever Stamp program, by 2011 almost every single one of the first-class stamps sold by the United States Postal Service were Forever Stamps.
This is about the time that the USPS decided to almost completely eliminate traditional first-class stamps (with their actual value stamped on the face), instead opting to sell Forever Stamps to the overwhelming majority of their customers.
The only time you’re able to purchase first-class stamps with their actual value on them are when you purchase bulk coils of stamps, and that means ordering at least 500 stamps in one shot!
How Forever Stamps Work
As we mentioned just a second ago, Forever Stamps basically guarantee that you’ll always have stamps on hand that cover the current cost of first-class postage even if you purchased those stamps 5 years, 10 years, or 15 years (or 50 years) in the past.
A fantastic deal considering the fact that the cost of postage has only ever dropped twice in USPS history (once in 1919 and once in 2016), the odds are definitely in your favor that postage is going to increase year after year – and it might get considerably more expensive in the far future.
Buying up Forever Stamps is basically a hedge against those price increases.
The beautiful thing about the way that the USPS handles price increases, though, is that they offer advanced notification about any increases they are thinking about at least a year or more ahead of time. That gives you plenty of opportunity to stock up on Forever Stamps if you anticipate a big jump in the years to come!
Figuring Out How Many Forever Stamps You Need
Another really cool thing about Forever Stamps is that you can use more than one stamp to cover the postage on letters that are going to weigh more than the standard one ounce limit that First Class postage covers.
Let’s say, for example, that you want to send an envelope that is going to weigh in at 2 ounces.
You’d need the first Forever Stamp to cover the first-class postage and then a second one to cover the extra ounce. If you added a third ounce to the envelope you’d need to add a third Forever Stamp, and so on and so forth.
Sending a first-class envelope with 3.4 ounces of weight in it? That’s four stamps!
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