Help Save the Postal Service & Hit Back at Predatory Lending

If you have been following the news recently, you realize that the U.S. Postal Service is in serious trouble. How many people are willing to pay 44¢ to mail a letter when e-mail is free and delivered immediately? How many people mail out greeting cards when there are a variety of free online greeting card services? There is no question that the future looks grim for the Postal Service. The glory days came years ago, before business began getting chipped away— sometimes in enormous chunks —by new competitors, from UPS to the fax machine to FedEx to the Internet. Just look at UPS and the parcel business. Back in the 1950s, the Postal Service was king of the hill in package delivery with Parcel Post. Today, it is difficult to find real statistics on the number of parcels delivered by the Postal Service; however, according to Wikipedia, UPS delivers more than 15 million packages per day to customers around the globe.

The profitable business segments for the Postal Service have been either disappearing or moving elsewhere, and the Postal Service has been embracing desperate measures as it enters survival mode. It seems like simply a matter of time before the U.S. Postal Service will be renamed the U.S. Catalog Delivery Service. Soon afterward, the country will likely demand that it drop the initials “U.S.” from its name. Then, it can have a three-letter acronym, just like UPS: The CDS.

In the meantime, desperate times call for desperate measures. Postage rates go up so frequently that even the Postal Service can’t keep up with the price, so it issues “forever stamps”. Then they seem to drop the rates lower and lower for the junk that nobody wants in their mailbox. My favorites are the credit card offers that are designed to especially appeal to people who used to be considered unworthy of credit: students, the unemployed, and poor people (including poor unemployed students). Of course there is a caveat: Once you miss a payment, your interest rate will go up to something like 27.9%.

It almost seems that the Postal Service is in cahoots with these predatory lenders. The postage rates for this junk mail are a fraction of what the average person would pay to mail a birthday card to Uncle Walter (if we still mailed birthday cards and if Uncle Walter was still alive). According to the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, there were 6 billion credit card offers mailed to American households in 2005. We’ve all gotten them, and you know the culprits: Chase, Capital One, American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and on and on. Now, according the the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 112,611,029 households in the U.S. in 2009. Do the math. That means that the average household gets at least one unsolicited credit card offer in the mail per week. My household, like the people in Lake Wobegon, must be above average because we seem to get at least two or three per week.

So, you might ask, how do we go about hitting back at these predatory lenders AND help save the Postal Service in the process? Simple. Every one of these offers includes a business reply envelope, the junk mail equivalent of the toll-free phone number. According to the U.S.P.S. Domestic Mail Manual, if the typical small business wanted to do a local direct mail campaign that included a business reply card or envelope, the Postal Service would charge them $1.19 per 1 ounce piece. This is called Basic Business Reply Mail, and it is not a bargain. However, our friends at the credit card companies, because of the sheer volume of the junk that they mail out, qualify for what the Postal Service calls High Volume Qualified Business Reply Mail, and they only have to pay 42.4¢ per piece. Less than what you or I pay to simply mail a letter!

Okay, here’s the plan. I have been doing this on a personal level for years, but this can only be effective with the power of numbers. When I get an unsolicited credit card application in the mail, I return the business reply envelope empty, with the words “Stop Junk Mail” written on the flap. Now, if everybody who receives these 6 billion pieces of junk mail per year followed suit, it would cost the credit card companies an additional $2.544 billion per year, and that money would go directly to the U.S. Postal Service. Two problems solved: An end to a major component of junk mail, and the Postal Service will still be able to deliver the other mail on Saturdays, not have to close 252 mail processing centers, not have to close 3,700 small post offices, and not have to furlough 120,000 postal workers – adding to the country’s already astronomical unemployment numbers. Do you need to be reminded what happens when postal workers are unhappy? Are you familiar with the term “going postal”?

That’s my plan in a nutshell. Start writing “Stop Junk Mail” on those credit card application business reply envelopes, taking one small step to save the world!

In order to survive, the Postal Service must redefine itself, replacing a business model from the past with a business model for the future. Did you know that 100,000,000 trees are cut down each year to produce the 4.5 million tons of junk mail that we receive each year? Did you know that your name and address are typically worth anywhere from 3¢ to 20¢ each time they are sold? For some excellent and practical suggestions on how you can cut back on junk mail, visit the website of the Native Forest Network.

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