While the United States Postal Service has a fantastic reputation for delivering mail consistently (and rather quickly), 3% of all mail pieces every year unfortunately don’t make it to their ultimate destination. There are a variety of different reasons behind why some mail never makes it where it was originally intended, but at the end of the day that 3% of all mail totals up to millions and millions of pieces on delivered. On the flip side of things, though, the USPS does do a lot to make sure that every piece finds its way to the address it was intended for – even if it takes a little bit longer than expected. On top of that, the USPS has a standing policy of making sure that pieces of mail that cannot be delivered bar returned to sender. Especially when a returned to sender service has been requested.
Throughout the rest of this detailed guide we highlight what the “Return Service Requested” status of a piece of mail means, why someone might want to make this request, and how the USPS actually handles returned mail, too. By the time you finish this information you’ll have a much better understanding of how the USPS handles mail set to be returned to sender, but also how it handles mail in general. Let’s get right into it!
What Does Return Service Requested Mean?
As mentioned earlier, the USPS does a fantastic job about making sure that every piece of mail sent through the United States Postal Service finds its way to its ultimate destination. At the same time, people understand that not every piece of mail is going to make its way to its intended recipient – sometimes because of deliverability problems that can include incorrect address, someone moving from that address, and a whole host of other issues. In these situations, it’s a good idea to make sure that a return service has been requested through the USPS. This guarantees that that piece of mail will find its way back to the sender if it cannot be delivered for one reason or another.
Businesses, lawyers, and a whole host of other professionals usually take advantage of this kind of service with the USPS. Anytime a particularly sensitive piece of mail is sent, for example, the sender will want to be sure that it arrives where it was intended to or that it is going to find its way back to the person or organization that sent it out.
Why Would You Want to Request a Return Service with Mail or Packages?
While the USPS will make every effort to have each piece of mail returned to sender if it cannot deliver it to the intended recipient, actually requesting this service – getting it down in writing and attaching it to that piece of mail – increases the chances that it finds its way back to you should something go wrong with deliverability. Without this specific request, though, that piece of mail may find itself in a bit of a deliverability loop until the USPS either loses it or destroys it.
That might not be that big of a deal with certain pieces of mail, but when a business sends merchandise, legal experts send documents, or the government something to someone in specific the idea that piece of mail not arriving where it was intended (and then just being driftless) is a huge problem. By making a request of the post office to return that piece of mail back to you (and telling the post office that you’re willing to pay postage for that piece to be returned to you) you don’t have to worry about those problems quite as much. Instead the post office will be alerted to the fact that you definitely want that piece of mail brought back to you if there are any deliverability problems, and that you are willing to pay the postage to have that piece of mail brought back to you, too.
How Does the USPS Handle Returned Mail?
The USPS has the ability to deliver pieces of mail to the correct address even when they aren’t necessarily addressed early in the overwhelming majority of circumstances, but they are not miracle workers. As a general rule, the USPS says that pieces of mail sent through their service need to be:
- Address properly (using the standardized format)
- Printed legibly and
- Must include the proper amount of postage
If anyone of those three things are not taken care of when the USPS receives the piece of mail you are sending through the system, the odds are pretty good that it may not find its way to its intended address. Again, the USPS will try and make sure to deliver that piece of mail whenever possible. Someone with poor handwriting, or someone that uses the wrong street address (spelling the address wrong, for example), or someone that included almost enough postage – but not quite enough – usually gets to flow through the system. In some circumstances, however, that piece of mail just won’t be able to be delivered and either will be returned to sender (when it is requested) or will be destroyed by the post office.
Requesting Returned to Sender Through the USPS
Those that are interested in getting their mail back if it isn’t able to be delivered are going to want to properly endorse that letter to request this return service in the first place.
Here’s how that works! When you are sending something through First Class Mail (standard envelopes and packages) all you really have to do is endorse your letter, your envelope, or your package with the following words:
RETURN SERVICE REQUESTED
There are a couple of different places that you can write this endorsement, including:
- Right beneath the return address on the upper left-hand corner of the envelope or package
- Right next to the USPS postage stamp
- Right beneath the USPS postage stamp or
- Just about the recipient address
All four of those spots are going to be considered “intentional” return service requested endorsements, though truth be told as long as this endorsement is written somewhere on the front of your envelope (as long as it doesn’t go over the postage stamp itself) the USPS will honor this request.
You’ll also be happy to know that as long as this is being requested on first-class mail packages you won’t have to worry about paying any extra to take advantage of this service. As soon as you start to request this service on more expensive packages, parcels, or envelopes (including flat rate envelopes) the odds are pretty good that you’ll have to pony up for return postage as well.
It’s also important that you remember that this kind of endorsement – the return service requested endorsement – cannot be written on the backside of the envelope for it to be official. Even if the USPS postal employees notice the endorsement on the back (and there’s no guarantee that they will) it may or may not be officially recognized. Be sure that you are including this on the front of your envelope if you want to be sure that your return service request is actually honored moving forward.
Can I Request Mail to be Returned Before Delivery is Attempted?
While there are certainly some situations where it would be nice to “recall” a piece of mail after it has been dropped off at the post office or put inside of a postal box, truth of the matter is that’s not going to be possible. Even if your return service has been requested you are not going to be able to intercept that piece of mail along its route and have it returned to you until delivery has been attempted.
First-class mail is not tracked in the same way that packages and parcels sent through the USPS are (or companies like FedEx and UPS.) Instead, that mail is just sort of moved throughout the USPS infrastructure in bulk – headed towards its ultimate destination – and then sorted at a regional post office or USPS sort facility before it goes out for delivery. Only after the mail has been attempted to be delivered and delivery found to be impossible (for a multitude of reasons) will that piece of mail be brought back to the post office. At that point in time, the endorsement for the return service requested will be honored in the piece of mail will be sent back to you. If the piece of mail can be delivered, however, it is going to be delivered – regardless of whether or not the return service requested endorsement is on the letter. This endorsement is really just a “safety net” to get that piece of mail sent back to you if it can’t be delivered to the address or individual intended.
How Should I Return Mail or Packages to the Sender?
If you have received mail that you do not want or mail that does not belong to you (maybe you’ve received mail from someone that used to live at your address) it’s not a bad idea to return that mail to sender on your own. This process is very simple and straightforward to initiate, will not cost you any money, and is possible to initiate even if there is no Return Service Requested endorsement on the envelope itself.
Returning mail that arrived at your mailbox or home for someone that does not live there is the easiest of all to return to sender. All you really have to do in that situation is endorse the envelope or the package in clear, printed letters with the words NOT AT THIS ADDRESS. Make sure that you do not cover any postage or barcodes and then drop off the box or envelope at your local post office. Tell the postal worker there that you want this to be returned to sender because it was sent to the wrong people at the right address and they’ll handle the rest of the heavy lifting for you.
If your post office isn’t in your neighborhood or a convenient location you can get to easily, and if you do not have a standard mail carrier that comes to your home every day, you can still doing this same thing with Postal Service boxes, too. Just make sure that the endorsement we highlighted above (NOT AT THIS ADDRESS) is written clearly and legibly before you drop it in the mailbox. If you are dealing with a piece of mail that was delivered to the wrong address you’ll want to endorse that envelope or package differently.
Instead you are going to want to bring that piece of mail to your local post office and explain to them that the mail was delivered to the wrong address (if it isn’t convenient enough to bring to the right person and the right address all on your own). They’ll handle things from there. You can also do the same by handing the piece of mail to your mail carrier if you’re able to catch them at the right time!
What you don’t want to do, however, is write anything on the package or envelope before you handed off to USPS officials. Any endorsement written on the package can interrupt the delivery, having it returned to sender rather than forwarded on to the right delivery address. Finally, if you are refusing a piece of mail (which may be necessary for one reason or another) and want it to be sent back to the sender simply endorse the package or envelope with the word REFUSED before dropping off at the post office or handing it to your mail carrier. They’ll get that piece of mail back to the individual organization on the return address ASAP for you!
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