How to Figure Postal Rates

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You can ship letters overnight for an extra charge.
You can ship letters overnight for an extra charge. (Image: Letter in hand image by Oleg Tarasov from Fotolia.com)

Postal rates change all the time, so the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) provides an online calculator to help people determine current postal rates. You can get a custom estimate by entering specific size and weight information about the package or letter you are sending. The calculator also helps you determine which delivery speed and extra service options will match your budget. Be sure to measure and weigh carefully in order to get the most accurate estimate.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Scale
  • Departing and destination zip codes

Determine the shape category for the package or letter you wish to send. To do this, measure the height, length and thickness of the package or letter, then compare the measurements to the USPS list of shape categories. For example, the USPS considers an item to be a postcard shape if it fits the following dimensions: height between 3-1/2 and 4-1/4 inches, length between 5 and 6 inches and thickness between 0.007 and 0.016 inch. You can find other shape category dimensions by clicking the question mark next to the picture of each shape on the USPS online postage price calculator. (See Resources.)

Weigh the package or letter on a scale that uses both pounds and ounces. If necessary, you can purchase a postal scale at most retail office-supply stores.

Enter all your information into the online postage price calculator. First, enter the shipping information for the package, including country, departing and destination zip codes, and the mailing date. Then enter the shape category and weight information for the package or letter. Click “Continue” when you finish entering all your information.

Choose the delivery speed from the list the online postage calculator provides. The faster the delivery, the more it will cost. Note that some types of delivery require that you drop off the package by a certain time and day. Click “Continue” to proceed.

Choose any extra services you wish to add. For example, you may want to purchase insurance for your package or to receive confirmation of delivery. Note that extra services may have special terms and conditions that apply. You can view these by clicking the question mark next to their names. Click “Continue” to proceed.

View your final estimated total. Note that this price depends on the accuracy of your measurements, so the total cost may change later if you somehow made an error.

Tips & Warnings

  • Consider using a "Flat Rate" box for shipping. If your item fits into a "Flat Rate" container, it qualifies for that container's standard rate, no matter how much the item weighs. This may save you money if you wish to send a small, heavy item. Several sizes of these containers are available at your post office.

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