Good Question: Balance due to mail carrier?

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This is something that happens every day across the country when a certain envelope gets dropped off in mailboxes.

There’s a section on them stating "Balance due to carrier," followed by some small amount of money owed. I heard some questions about this. What do these envelopes mean?

In short, the person sending you a package or letter didn’t pay the full postage needed or put enough stamps on it, leaving you to pick up the tab.

Why? The local carriers union for our area, NALC Branch 210, told me it’s basically more efficient to do it this way. Plus, it’s good customer service. They can just deliver the mail once instead of handling it multiple times through the system, counting on you to pay the difference.

Here’s the kicker: What’s owed is actually paid first by your carrier — it comes out of their own pocket. When you put the change back in the envelope and drop it in the mailbox, it goes back to your carrier.

Most people do the right thing and pay it, but you don’t have to. Some don’t. In that case, your carrier never gets their money back. That’s small change that adds up over time.

If someone has a habit of never paying it back, the carrier also has the option of leaving the mail at the post office, forcing you to drive out and pay to pick it up there yourself.

But again from the carrier’s perspective, and really everyone’s benefit, the courtesy of them putting their own change in and asking you to pay it back works better for all. So the next time you get one of those envelopes, just grab some change and return the favor.

I also reached out to USPS about this issue and how the envelopes are handled. Here’s the response:

We encourage our carriers to follow the proper protocol of attempting to collect for postage due items at the customer’s door. If the customer is not home, the carrier shall leave a notice indicating the amount due and the customer can pick up the item at their local post office or make arrangements for redelivery.

The proper payment of postage by the mailer keeps us delivering. The Postal Service generally receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products, and services to fund its operations.