Sending important letters or packages in the mail comes with some amount of risk. You can never be entirely sure that it reached the intended recipient unless you opt for an extra service that verifies the delivery reached its destination.
There are different types, but Certified Mail, by definition, is anything that you pay an extra fee for to secure a signature when it's delivered. Find out more about the uses and benefits of this common mail service below.
What Is the Certified Mail Definition?
Customer satisfaction and security are still important when it comes to mail pieces. So, what does certified mail mean, exactly? It’s simply an added layer of security that requires a signature from an authorized individual upon delivery. This is especially important for essential business and legal forms.
The Certified Mail service was first offered in the United States in 1955 as a way to give mailers greater security and control over the items they sent. It is still a popular service today for items such as these:
- Legal documents
- Tax documents
- Collection letters
- Default notices
- Personal records
- Medical records
- Bank documents
- Time-sensitive correspondence
Sometimes, a recipient tries to claim they didn't receive an important or time-sensitive notification, especially if it contains unwanted news. When the mailer sends it via Certified Mail and requires a signature, there is no confusion or conflict.
Having documentation that all reasonable attempts were made to send essential mailings and ensure their timely delivery may come in handy if you are later involved in any conflict over the contents.
How Does Certified Mail Work?
When you choose this service for sending mail, you get a certified mail receipt complete with a tracking number, plus electronic verification when your mail is delivered. If the delivery fails for any reason, you also receive notice that a delivery attempt was made. The Post Office will leave a notice at the address stating they attempted to deliver a USPS Certified Mail piece. This includes information on how and where the recipient can go to claim it.
The recipient may need to show an ID when providing a signature to complete the delivery. Once the item is successfully delivered, the Post Office keeps a record complete with the recipient's signature on file for two years. You can also request an electronic or mailed return receipt as signature proof.
Undelivered items get held at the Post Office for a total of 15 days. If an item isn’t claimed by the addressee by that time, it gets returned to the original sender. As the sender, you still must sign for the item.
Benefits of Sending a Mail Piece by Certified Mail
There are many advantages to using this service. Some of the most compelling are:
- Proof you mailed important documents: It doesn’t hurt to have a paper trail proving when you mailed the item and the address you sent it. Sometimes this proof is necessary by law.
- Tracking information: Never wonder when an item will arrive at its destination. Just use your tracking number to find out.
- Timely delivery: Certified Mail is excellent for sending things like tax returns that have penalties if not mailed by a specified date. This service also gives your mail piece priority, ensuring delivery on time.
- Mail that stands out: Anyone who receives something by Certified Mail knows that the item is important. Using this service is a good way to draw attention to your item and make sure the recipient pays it the attention it deserves.
The small added fee is worthwhile when you are sending something urgent or important enough that it requires a little extra attention and care.
Where to Get Certified Mail
The most obvious answer is to head to your local Post Office to pay for the Certified Mail service for your important mail pieces. You need to fill out the required information on the white and green Form 3800 and wait in line to pay, hand over your letter, and get your receipt.
The internet isn’t just great for online shopping. It’s also an amazing solution that allows you to print your Certified Mail labels right from home to save yourself a trip to the Post Office. You can create labels with your recipient’s name and address from your online account and have the label printed and affixed in just a few short moments.
This is a wonderful option for any individual or business that frequently sends sensitive mailings that require a signature for verification.
Types of Certified Mail
You can certify only these types of mail:
- First-Class Mail
- First-Class Package Service-Commercial
- Priority Mail with a prepaid postage
The speed of your mail delivery depends upon the class you select. You can purchase Certified Mail service alone or in combination with the following other services:
- Certified Mail Restricted Delivery: The item is only delivered to the addressee or their authorized agent.
- Certified Mail Adult Signature Required: Delivery requires the signature of an adult age 21 or older.
- Certified Mail Adult Signature Restricted Delivery: Delivery is only made to an addressee or agent who is an adult of at least 21 years of age. This restricted delivery service is for online use and commercial mailers.
It's important to note that Certified Mail does not come with an option to purchase insurance. The only exception is Priority Mail items that already have insurance included.
Costs of Certified Mail
This is a wonderful service if you need to provide proof that you sent a document or package. However, it does come with a fee of $4.00. If you opt for one of the additional services, the fees are as follows:
- Certified Mail Restricted Delivery: $10.35
- Adult Signature Required: $8.50
- Adult Signature Restricted Delivery: $8.75
The cost of Certified Mail is in addition to the regular postage fee. If you want a receipt, USPS charges an extra $2.85 for a paper receipt and $1.70 for an email receipt.
Where Can I Send Certified Mail
You can send domestic Certified Mail through the United States Postal Service to any state, as well as United States possessions and territories. This includes overseas Army Post Office (APO), Fleet Post Office (FPO), and Diplomatic Post Office (DPO) locations but excludes other International mail.
Other ineligible items are Priority Mail Express, Library Mail, Media Mail, USPS Retail Ground, and Bound Printed Matter.
How to Send USPS Certified Mail
It's easy to send USPS Certified Mail. Once you secure the correct postage that covers the mailing fee along with the additional charge for the signature service, simply drop it off at a collection box, local post office, or a Sales and Service Associate (SSA), or arrange for home pickup.
Remember that you only get a receipt confirming you paid for the Certified Mail service if you take it to a Post Office to mail.
How to Track Certified Mail
One of the most compelling reasons to use this service is that Certified Mail is trackable, allowing you to follow your letter’s progress and know exactly when it arrives. This is great for time-sensitive paperwork. You can check on the delivery status of your certified mail in one of three ways:
- Visit usps.com and enter the USPS Tracking number printed on your receipt.
- Via telephone using the same tracking number.
- If you provide the USPS with an electronic manifest, you can also check via bulk electronic file transfer.
You can check on your mail piece at any time that is convenient for you. Just make sure you hold onto the tracking number.
Certified Mail Refunds
It’s possible to get a refund of the service fee you paid if you don’t get your electronic verification and mailing receipt within 30 days. The postage fee is not included in the refund amount.
If you believe you should get a refund, you can request it online or by visiting your local Post Office. Keep in mind that refunds are not issued if your item was undeliverable but an attempt was made.
When to Use Certified Mail
Paying the charges required to send a mail piece by Certified Mail can add up quickly and start to cut into the profits of your business. It’s best to only use this service when needed and take advantage of other shipping options when you can.
FirstMile ships to more than 220 countries around the globe. You can choose from economy to expedited shipping options with full tracking to monitor the progress of your packages. With shipments ranging in size from 50 to 50,000 per day, both small and large eCommerce shippers can benefit from the cost savings and wide network FirstMile offers.
You may wonder when it is advisable to send certified mailings. First of all, you should always consider this service for legal papers and vital business documents, as the Certified Mail definition of a signature upon receipt ensures your package reaches its intended recipient. You may also want to use an eCommerce parcel carrier service like FirstMile that partners with the United States Postal Service.
We can help you recognize when Certified Mail is necessary, so you can keep costs low. Contact us today to find out more about our services and simplify your shipping!