The Post Office Wants Their Penny Dammit!

Reader Joe wrote to us with a heads-up about not short-changing the U.S. Post Office. His postman left him a serious-ass invoice charging Joe with 1¢ postage due. According to Joe’s rough numbers, the PO spent at least $.25 to pay the postman for the estimated minute it took to write the invoice. Joe’s letter and photos, inside…

Please see attached photos. We recently went to a first birthday party, and received a thank-you card in the mail today. Unfortunately, the sender used a $0.41 stamp and did not write in their return address (see ‘envelope.png’). As a result, our mail carrier took the time to fill out ‘invoice.png’.

Let’s do the math, shall we?

Entry level mail carrier salary is $40,000 per year. That’s $769.23 per week, or $153.85 per day. Let’s give them 10 hour days on average, and that’s $15.38 per hour. 60 minutes in an hour, and that’s $0.26 per minute. So assuming it only took one minute to stamp the envelope with the ‘POSTAGE DUE’ stamp, write in the number one, take out the ‘carrier’s statement’ envelope, write in our address, our last name, his name, our town, and our zip code…he just cost the US Government $0.25. And that doesn’t include the gas he burned idling at the top of my driveway.

And we thought that the paperboys who wanted their $2 were batshit crazy. However, if we literally interpret the postman’s invoice (.01¢), you actually owe just one-one-hundredths of a penny. (The correct notation would have been $.01) Loyal Consumerists know that many people are confused about dollars and decimals.


Edit Your Comment

  1. wellfleet says:

    You should super-glue a penny to the bottom of your mailbox.

  2. cashmerewhore says:

    Meh. I get these from my box clerk from my PO box every so often. If they didn’t collect on every piece of mail that is still being sent with a 41¢ stamp, they’d be out money.

    Postal employees are offered overtime, so your estimate of 10 hrs a day at $15.83/hr is incorrect. They can receive both “time-and-a-half” and “double-time” depending on how many hours of OT they work during the day/week (So, it probably cost them more than the 26¢ as well….)

  3. cashmerewhore says:


    All that said, I almost charged my first one out of spite. And lack of change in my wallet…

  4. mike says:

    unlike a normal gov’t agency, the post office get all it’s funding from stamp revenue. So technically, it did cost the government anything.

    Since USPS runs more like a business, I’m surprised they even wasted the time. it could have been one of the situations where they did all of the envelopes at once. Just a thought.

  5. crazydavythe1st says:

    My local Wal-mart once had a few candy bars on clearance for $0.25. Got 1 @ $0.25 and paid with a debit card. It never posted to my account. Apparently, they ate the cost rather then paying the transaction fees associated with such a small purchase.

    Moral of the story? Ask them if you can pay it with plastic. Penny saved is a penny earned, right?

  6. ClayS says:

    If you want to get picayune about it, .01 cent is 1/100 of a cent. Seems you would round down to the nearest cent, meaning zero.

  7. JustThatGuy3 says:

    Sometimes you have to do this, though, just to show that you can, because if the word gets around “hey, you can still use the old $0.41 stamps,” then the revenue losses will far exceed the incremental expense of writing an occasional postage due form.

  8. Tightlines says:

    Did he really make a special trip to do this? Wouldn’t it just be part of his ordinary route?

  9. crazydavythe1st says:

    Oh, and we should be praising the post office. Any other company would have sent it to collections with another $50 worth of fees attached.

  10. CRNewsom says:

    @ClayS: I came here to say this.

    On the envelope it says 1¢, but on the notice it says .01¢, which is it? I don’t think that gas stations calculate that accurately…

  11. praktisk says:

    The postal carrier simply wants to be refunded money they put out of their own pocket (not the postal service) for the postage due on a letter they delivered.

  12. invaderzim says:

    I bet it’s more of a ‘fyi’ – they want the person to know that the rates went up a penny.

  13. Wormfather is Wormfather says:

    “Loyal Consumerists know that many people are confused about dollars and decimals.”

    What really pisses me off is when people pronounce $153,255.65 or a similar number as:

    One-hundred fifty-three thousand and two-hundred and fifty-five dollars and sixty-five cents.

    And means decimal point DAMNIT!

  14. ryan89 says:

    For our wedding invites we had rsvp post cards to send back. Somehow one of them got mangled in the processing on the way back, it was still legible, but it was now a little smaller than the standard postcard size. USPS took the liberty to stick the postcard in the envelope, write the address on it, and take the postcard stamp off the postcard and stick it on the envelope. So when it came it was postage due of like 17 cents. So their machine messed up the postcard and I had to pay for it! It wasn’t worth my 17 cents to make a phone call though.

  15. Optimistic Prime says:

    I’m sure they paid a nice shiny nickel for the fancy envelope too!

  16. simplegreen says:

    how do you give 1/100th of a penny? I would walk in and for teh same principle as they seem to have, literally give them a sliver of a penny.

  17. yasth says:

    @ryan89: In general when the post office messes up post card style mail they poly bag it with a stock apology, and do not charge you any extra.

    My guess is your guest did something odd, or someone dropped the ball policy wise.

  18. IphtashuFitz says:

    Two dollars. I want my two dollars!

  19. johnfrombrooklyn says:

    Funny because I sent 10 postcards recently and forgot to put stamps on any of them. So I e-mailed the recipients and 9 out of 10 got them with no request for moneys. The 10th disappeared somewhere.

  20. RunawayJim says:

    I thought the cost of postage was always the sender’s responsibility. I’ve had mail returned to me because I didn’t have enough postage on it originally. And because it was returned, I had to put the whole amount on over again, putting me out several cents.

  21. synimatik says:

    praktisk is correct. The postal carrier is out that money if you don’t hand it over. I got one for $.21, I originally considered putting a quarter in the envelope and submitting him a bill for $.04. But then I remembered those people probably put up with a lot of crap, so I didn’t.

    Still, funny.

  22. synimatik says:

    @ RunawayJim

    It IS the responsibility of the sender. But, in cases where the post person thinks it’s an invitation or something special that you probably want on time, he/she will deliver it anyway as a courtesy to you, expecting you to reimburse them because they DO get charged that money. Add up $.05 over time, it’s a lot of money.

  23. boomerang86 says:

    Aren’t grocery coupons worth fractions of a penny?

  24. RGordon says:

    I just had an envelope sent back to me with a box stamped on it saying I need to add $.01 postage. I did use a $.41 stamp, so it was my fault I was just surprised the sent it back becuase of a penny. They had even ripped the envelope for me so I had to tape it all back together. The check was still in it though.

  25. Suttin says:

    Think of it this way, If 1 Million people send mail with a 41 cent stamp, that is $10,000 the post office lost.

    Pennies add up fast.

  26. razremytuxbuddy says:

    @praktisk: I think you are right. When I’ve been asked to pay a few cents to make up for deficient postage, the invoice actually said the carrier had paid it and was asking to be reimbursed. One more reason to appreciate the carrier who works my neighborhood.

  27. BlueTraveler says:

    @RunawayJim: Usually that is the case, but since the original sender did not include a return address on the envelope (as shown in the picture and described in the story), the USPS will collect postage due from the reciever.

  28. coan_net says:

    I can understand the post office doing that.

    Otherwise, the person who does not know that the price went up will continue to use the old $.41 stamps and would continue to cheat the post office.

    This way, not only will he pay the extra $.01 now – but will hopefully from now on start to use the correct postage.

    … so an easy way to fix the problem now instead of letting it drag on. Good job post office

  29. coan_net says:

    @BlueTraveler: The envelope is folded in half – so it got returned to sender – not to the destination.

  30. cjdtech says:

    My girlfriend recently sent me a card and the carrier came to the door demanding 18 cents (I gave it to him). When you think about the time it takes to collect such a small amount of money, it seems like a waste, but when you add up each small amount it really adds up.

  31. helloashley says:

    I don’t see what’s so crazy about this. I’ve gotten these notices before–usually for 20 cents or so. Just put the damn penny in the envelope and be done with it.

  32. Caslonbold says:

    @praktisk: Yes, my postal carrier told me that she paid the money from her pocket and I am rembursing her for the postage due.

  33. ryan89 says:

    And if you don’t pay the penny, it will turn into at least $100 by the time the collections agency calls.

  34. cmdrsass says:

    People who only mail out bills and the occasional letter or card should not buy postage with a dollar value on it. Always buy “first class” stamps to avoid this kind of nonsense and the inevitable need for 1 penny stamps when the rates rise.

  35. Oxzimmaron says:

    Not all mail delivery people are making the big bucks. Out here in the hinterland (aka boondocks) they can be private contractors who bid on the job. They supply their own vehicles and gas, and get paid whatever they bid, no matter how costs rise. And after they invest in a roomy vehicle (to carry all the packages we country folk order) they can be underbid a couple of years later by somebody else. Then it can take six months or so before the new guy learns the route reliably and we stop getting other people’s mail. Of course it would help if the township would assign us street addresses to replace the crazy box number system, like they are supposed to, but I digress.

    It’s interesting that these contractors don’t seem to have to pass any kind of test or undergo any scrutiny that I know of. The one we have now is great, but we once had a guy who could not read. I’m not exaggerating; after there were numerous complaints to the postmaster, he admitted he couldn’t read, and quit.

    Back on topic, the mail person may have been hammered with a bunch of postage due stuff and just got fed up.

  36. muffinpan says:

    one cent makes no sense

  37. pauljunk says:

    0.01¢ is actually 1/100 of a penny. They f’d up. bad.

  38. Jacquilynne says:

    It’s my understanding that Canada Post’s official policy is that anything less than 3 cents worth of insufficient postage is not collected, with the number specifically chosen to allow for the usual 1 or 2 cent increases in the cost of mailing a letter.

    I suspect the cost of printing and then selling a zillion one cent stamps every time you raise the postage by a penny is probably not much less than the cost of just eating the loss from people sending their mail 1 cent short on postage for a month or two until they run out of old stamps and have to buy new ones.

  39. petermv says:

    Over here in the UK the Post Office simply sells first class stamps with no prices on them. When they decide to increase the cost only the price changes not the stamp. If you had hundreds of them socked away, they would all still cover the first class postage.

  40. vladthepaler says:

    I don’t know what the big deal is. If anything, it was kind of the postal worker to deliver the piece of mail at all, with insufficient postage.

  41. Dobernala says:

    @vladthepaler: The big deal is that it cost the post office more money to demand their $0.01 than it would have to eat the cost and continue delivering mail.

  42. SaveMeJeebus says:

    I had this happen to me. Grandma sent a birthday card with an old 37 cent stamp. Instead of being dicks and sending it back to her they put the little envelope in my mailbox and I gladly put a nickel in it and gave it back. I would rather do this and have my kid’s stuff arrive on time rather than do the insufficient postage hustle.

  43. You-Me-Us says:

    I used to work in the proof department of a large bank. If a deposit was out of balance by $2 or less, we let it go through. In other words, you could deposit checks totaling $98 with a deposit slip for $100 and get away with it. Of course the opposite was true too, so if you shorted yourself $2, we’d let it slide. Over time, debits and credits all pretty much canceled each other out and it was more cost efficient to just let $2 or lower mistakes go through.

  44. emilymarion333 says:

    We get these quite often at work. The delivery person gets quite annoyed by it – but its not our fault!

  45. samurailynn says:

    What happened to Forever Stamps? I couldn’t find them online when I was buying stamps for my company, and when my husband went to the PO to buy some stamps he came back with regulars rather than forevers. Weren’t they supposed to be selling those to make all this postage change crap easier to deal with?

  46. temporaryerror says:

    I’ve read about a rather simple minded scheme/scam to get free postage; assuming the party that you are trying to mail something to lives in or near the same town as you, you simply put your address as the destination and your friend/family/dealer’s address as the return address. Then, drop it in a public box and it gets returned to the destination with “postage due”. Of course, considering the amount of things that could go wrong, it seems rather pointless to try to scam the USPS out of $.42 (or whatever it is now) but some people still do it. Also, no one has mentioned the new(ish) “Forever Stamps”. The don’t have a amount, and are good no matter what the PO rate was when you bought the stamp.

  47. temporaryerror says:

    whoops…samurailynn posted before I refreshed. They were prolly just out of the forevers when your husband went to buy the stamps…although it would seem strange that with the forevers they would even bother printing the regular stamps anymore.

  48. samurailynn says:

    @temporaryerror: I’m thinking that you must have to specifically request them or something. And actually, I just checked online and you can buy sheets of 20 Forever Stamps, but not rolls of 100 – of which we use about 5 per month, so having to deal with sheets of 20 would be kind of annoying.

  49. MissPeacock says:

    @samurailynn: Actually, the last few times I’ve gone to get stamps, they’ve given me Forever stamps without my having asked for them. I guess every place is different, though.

  50. TPS Reporter says:

    @coan_net: Actually the article says that the sender did not put a return address on the envelope. So the receiver had to pay it.

  51. katiat325 says:

    You know, I noticed they do this more often now. My office has been getting mail returned to us for the past 2 weeks. We even have a mail meter machine, and the post office still said we were short like 17 cents. Another post office incident ended up costing us a client when the post office took 2 weeks to deliver a letter, and when we finally received it, on it was a giant red stamp and we owed 5 cents to the post office. Lame.

  52. garykung says:

    The calculation is incorrect.

    1. Most postpersons finish their routes way before the end of business day. Do you know that USPS is paying for those hours that they are done but have no other words. In other words, it may cost nothing to USPS to send those notices because postpersons’ salaries are fixed cost.

    2. USPS always has the authority to depose (get rid of) your underpaid mail in their own decision, especially first-class. The guy should be thanked that USPS doesn’t throw away his mail.

    3. If USPS let 1 person not to pay 1 cent, how about the rest of the country? It is about principle, not the cost. Do you know some TSA screeners got fired because they collect the cents left after screening.

  53. ORPat says:

    It all depends on your carrier. They have the option of not delivering postage due mail, based on whether or not they can collect the money. My carrier knows me, and knows I will pay the extra, so it’s no problem. She has several on her route that she won’t because they don’t pay up. It’s not that they pay put of pocket up front, it’s that they have to pay of it’s not collected and they deliver it. They have a choice to throw it in a bin for return to sender or send to dead letter if no return address.

  54. Kat@Work says:

    @vladthepaler: USPS carriers are required to deliver any mail that has at least half of the required postage on it, and then they are responsible for collecting the postage due.

    There’s nothing nice about this mail carrier.

  55. Breach says:

    wow, if only there was something smaller than a penny that you could send one at a time to them.

    Dick move post office guy, dick move

  56. Lucky225 says:

    I have a pic on my cell, I’m waiting for a memory card, but I have a pic of an envelope I got in the mail with a “FOREVER” stamp canceled and “19 cents postage due” on a regular envelope, it didn’t weigh any more then regular mail or anything… Post office is tripping lately

  57. iamlost26 says:

    For all of you saying that it would cost them money by letting people use the old 41 cent stamps… no it wouldn’t. Why would they create and promote the use of Forever stamps if they’re losing money on people using the old 41 cent stamps? I’m positive they lose more money by printing 1 cent stamps and sending these stupid invoices than allowing people to use the old stamps.

  58. domo-arigato says:

    OMG…anything under $1.00 they should just let go (like the IRS – haha) because it’s not worth the time & trouble. That being said, most postage-due situations would be for a few cents anyway, so if they let all of them go, just imagine: a free-for-all of incorrect postage for the poor, beleaguered USPS to deal with!

    Damned if they do, damned if they don’t!

  59. Ohmigod, this is extremely creepy that this article would get posted just two days after the same thing happened to me! Before then I had no clue that USPS did this sort of thing, and now within 48 hours I can’t stop hearing about it.

    I received a package with $.07 postage due, even though it did have a return address, they charge me, the recipient. The nonsensical thing about it was that the postman had already delivered the regular mail, then later in the day came back to deliver this! I can guarantee that they burned far more than 7-cents worth of gas in the process. So, what if I had refused to pay the 7-cents?

  60. ClankBoomSteam says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t The Consumerist recently publish an article about a bank that was benefiting from the inverse of this situation, wherein the bank was telling its customers, as I recall, that it “wouldn’t worry” about a few cents here and there (in the bank’s favor)?

    Forgive me if this is vague, but what I remember was that the bank in question was somehow profiting by rounding their numbers up (or some such similar shenanigans), and that individual customers were losing a few cents each in the process.

    The reason I bring this up is that I fail to see how these two situations differ. Technically speaking, the OP is hanging on to money, however little, that he technically owes another party, just like the bank did.

    But The Consumerist, if memory serves, took an entirely different, accusatory approach when it came to the bank hanging onto its ill-gotten pennies: rather than going after the other party (in this case, the USPS) for all the energies it wasted on getting its money back, The Consumerist focused on the bank, and how evil they were for taking someone else’s money (a position with which, for the record, I would agree).

    Shouldn’t that logic apply to the disgruntled bank customers as well? Isn’t their time better spent (pun intended) elsewhere, rather than stubbornly demanding that their pennies be paid them? Or else shouldn’t the same logic apply to the OP in this story, and the focus be on the fact that he is holding onto money he owes the government (and thus, all of us)?

    Just seems to be inconsistent reportage, to me.

  61. SAGoon987 says:

    @ClankBoomSteam: Yes, the Consumerist did take that stance and is now mocking it without acknowledging it. Funny how journalism works like that.

  62. Oooh, I got one:

    Just before Christmas, I got one of these little notes asking for $0.26. I walked across the street to my parents’ house, gave my dad the card and the 26 cents, and asked him to get the letter or whatever it is from the mailman, whom knows us all and he is friends with. Come home and go over to their house to get mail. It was a Christmas card. From my parents. Yes, the same ones that live across the street. So, yes, I had to pay a 26 cent “ransom” for a Christmas card that the ‘rents could have handed me any day they wanted to. That’s my mother for you…

  63. sean77 says:

    @Dobernala: not true. if the PO just ate the cost of the penny and delivered the mail, the original sender would continue to use his 41 cent stamps.

    This way, the PO box spends 24 cents to notify the original sender and prevents further abuse.

    You have to look at it in the long term.

  64. Coolmatt49 says:

    I would go to the post office and hand them a check for $.01.

  65. kaseyburrell98 says:

    When the letter carrier gets Postage Due letters in the morning, they have to sign for them and are accountable for them.

    If they leave you a “bill” it is because the carrier paid for this out of their own pocket. You can bet the carrier did not like to have to fill out one of these forms, because you or someone you know, did not use the proper postage.

    I agree, for 1 cent it is pretty silly. But, the carriers are only doing what they obligated to do.

    (By the way, if each customer on a 400 stop route, had just 1 of these per day, it would cost the carrier over $1,000 per year.)

  66. ampersand says:

    The USPS dicks around their employees to the point where the guy might really need that penny. Seriously, there is no worse employer. No postal delivery persons I know are “making the big bucks.” Maybe the supervisors, not the delivery persons.

  67. RGordon says:


    Pay with amex/visa/mc so they take out the %!

  68. SayAhh says:

    PS Form 4245? Only dickhead uses those! LOL Maybe the mailman has been paying the different himself out of his own pockets until EVERYONE on his route started shorting postage. $0.01 times 1000 houses/apartments equals $10!

    @ampersand: No one needs ONE penny, but next time try writing your mortgage check ONE PENNY SHORT and see if:
    a) the bank processor will pay it for you,
    b) your Visa/MC limit will be lowered due to non-payment (see Slashed Credit Lines),
    c) you’ll lose your house next month along with everyone else.

  69. imsomeguy says:

    Not every mail carrier starts off with their own route. Most employees start a a ptf (part time flex), or rca (rural carrier associate) most of whome rarely ever se a 40 hour week. City carriers are paid for their time on the clock, not an evaluated time. Rural carriers are paid based on a very broken set pay for each day. Routes are “estimated” though rarely fit since coverage (all that junk mail with no address, political mail, city magazines, penny saver etc.) is not counted (or at least counted fairly). The only way for a RCA to earn money for the time worked is to work over 10-12 hours in one day, or to reach past 40 hours. I have worked many 9 hour days to only be paid for 6.

    Also, the stamp is from the cage clerk, not your carrier, your carrier had tyo sign off agreeing that they would collect the 1 cent, or return it for another day. If the balance is not paid off it would not be sent.

    What if everyone shortchanged the post office? Should the carrier pay $3-8 a day for each house/business? that is asuming each one only sent one letter.

    Your mailman is not doing this to spite you, I’m sure he finds it as ridiculous as you. How many times do you sit at a red left arrow when it is obviously clear to go? How many stop signs have you not run even though it was very clear there is no one there?

    Why don’t you try delivering that letter yourself? How much gas do you suppose it would cost? Stamp prices are nothing compared to the alternative (esp. seeing as how many places charge a $10 convenience fee to pay on-line or over the phone).

    How much money do you make in an hour? How much time did you spend typing all that up? Was it less than a cent? How much electricity did you use? How long to scan in, crop, blur, save, and upload? Obviously this postman isn’t the only one spending more money to do something than it’s worth

  70. BritAgdistis says:

    Everyone is missing the point. As a postal carrier I sign for the postage
    dues every morning. I have two choices. 1) Pay it out of pocket, therefore
    leaving the envelope for you to hopefully pay me back, 2) Leave a notice
    (not pictured here) for you to come to the post office and pick up your
    postage due.

    At the end of the day I am required to either pay the money or return the
    postage due piece. After 10 years of being screwed by whiners like those
    here, I no longer pay the postage dues for anyone. That is right. Because
    you choose to stiff me a penny I am going to write you a notice, make you go
    stand in line at the post office and get your letter. Sorry, your fault on

    To the business person who complains about the two week delivery. We give 3
    notices. It did not take 2 weeks to deliver your letter. We probably
    notified the receiver that 5 cents was owed, they ignored it, ignored it
    again and finally it was sent back. Most people do not pay postage due for
    business mail. They view it as your fault and your problem. Perhaps you need
    a new rate card for you scale? The new rates are confusing and involve many
    factors, call your post office and get help. They will help you.

    Long story short, if I let a penny a day go I am only screwing myself. It is
    not rocket science. Buy forever stamps and not worry about. Rates are on the
    internet if you have a question. There is postal contract stations
    everywhere. You are responsible for your actions.

  71. VianBabalique says:

    As a leter carrier for 25 years, I will leave you, a customer on my route a postage due with the envelope. I write down your address and the amount due me in my little book. If you pay, I will mke note of it and do the same next time. If you don’t pay, you can use your gas, stand in line, and pick it up at the Post Office.

    Just like the previous poster said, this comes out of our pockets and if you like stiffing your mailman, expect the same treatment in return.

    Nuff Said

  72. William Champy says:

    I am a mail carrier, your mail carrier is not trying to screw you out of a penny, we have to sign for these items little as it may cost, most of us just pay the amount due and leave the article with the postage due envelope, so that we can be cleared of it, and to save you a trip to the post office, we are going by your house anyway so we take the article(which we are not required to by the way, we are only required to leave you a notice and make you go pick it up so be grateful) so a penny may not seem much to you, but if you think about the fact that the average mail route has over 700 stops to deliver to, do the math of how much a carrier would be responsible for if all of them didnt pay postage dues, then multiply it by 6 days a week , be thankful im not your carrier, because i would go out of my way to make sure you had to go pick up everything i was not required to deliver. So dont blame your postman, blame the idiot that put the wrong amount on the envelope, whiny ass !!!
    As far as your math is concerned, i have worked at the post office as a carrier for six years, i make under $30,000 dollars a year, it dont make a shit of difference how much we get payed, we dont get payed to pay for others mistakes on under postaging a letter. By your logic, if i go to walmart today and buy a pack of gum, and the cashier charges me 26 cents and i give her a quarter, she calls the manager over to argue with me for the other penny, she should have to pay because she is getting payed by the hour her wages, the manager is on salary, so the five minutes they just spent arguing with me to get my penny has cost them to much, right?? You are a moron.
    We get payed an evealuated time, not by the hour, once a year our route is evaluated and our pay is based on what happens during that 2 week span which occurs during February normally a lighter part of the year, so during the heavier months we are doing more work and getting payed the same, that isnt fair either, but i might as well pay your postage dues too right?
    And to save you math in the future, a carrier starting out makes $18.24 an hour and is only guaranteed 1 day of work a week, put that in your pipe and smoke it!!