Postage rates also set to go up again

Folks who procrastinate with thank-you notes for Christmas gifts may want to get them in the mail, or at least stock up on stamps, before Jan. 26.

That’s when the price of a first-class stamp will rise from 46 cents to 49 cents, one of a number of increases to the cost of sending letters and packages in 2014.

The independent Postal Regulatory Commission last month approved the 3-cent stamp hike, along with a 6 percent climb in bulk mail, periodical and package service rates for the U.S. Postal Service. The increases were approved to help the postal service recover from mail decreases resulting from the 2008 economic downturn.

As more and more people have turned to online bill-paying and electronic communication, mail volume has declined. That, coupled with a 2006 congressional requirement that the Postal Service make payments of $5.6 billion a year to cover anticipated health care costs for future retirees, has caused the agency to struggle financially. Three of those mandated payments have been defaulted upon, and the Postal Service lost $5 billion in fiscal year 2013, down from $15.9 billion in 2012.

Marietta resident Kim Coleman, 45, said she mails letters and packages to family members in different parts of the state and country. She enjoys the convenience of taking her mail to the Marietta post office, but the price increases are going to at least make her consider her options.

“I will probably look into different means to see which is the best,” she said.

Parcel rates will go from $2.07 for items weighing 3 ounces or less to $2.32, and from $3.77 for parcels weighing between 12 and 13 ounces to $4.12.

Most Priority Mail flat-rate pricing will remain the same, with small and medium boxes, at $5.80 and $12.35, respectively. The cost for a large box will go from $16.85 to $17.45.

Oak Grove resident Sarah Allan, 25, doesn’t use so-called “snail mail” that often for correspondence and bill-paying, considering it “too expensive” already. But she has an Etsy business through which she sells wedding invitations and ships them to clients.

Allan usually uses UPS or FedEx for that, but those companies are raising their rates too.

On Dec. 30, UPS’ ground, air and international services and associated rates increased an average of 4.9 percent. According to the company website, the new rates will allow UPS “to further enhance our portfolio of solutions and improve service to you, so you can deliver greater value to your customers.”

New rates for FedEx – up 4.9 percent on average for ground and home delivery and 3.9 percent on average for express shipping – take effect Monday. The company’s website attributes the increases to necessary adjustments based on the cost of doing business “to enable us to keep investing in our business and ensure that we continue to deliver the shipping solutions and service excellence you have come to expect from FedEx.”

Allan said it’s already not cheap to ship her packages, and the new increases will likely be passed along to her customers.

“I would have to increase price on my product because that includes shipping,” she said.

Businesses and groups that rely heavily on mailing opposed any Postal Service increases in excess of the current 1.7 percent rate of inflation, saying charities using mass mailings and bookstores competing with online retailer Amazon would be among those who suffer.

As she’s made wedding invitations, Allan has noticed some couples aren’t including RSVP envelopes with postage already attached, instead opting to have people register their intent to attend online. While cost may not be the only factor in the trend, Allan said placing stamps on 200 RSVP envelopes would cost nearly $100 after Jan. 26.

One way people can insulate themselves from the increase in first-class postage is by stocking up on “forever” stamps. Marietta Postmaster Andrew Morgan noted most commemorative stamps now being produced are forever stamps, which are good even if after the cost of postage increases.

“People appreciate that they don’t have to come down here and buy 1- or 2-cent stamps,” he said.

Technically, the stamp price increase is only temporary, set to last no longer than two years. However, since prices rise with inflation, 49 cents could be determined an acceptable price by the time the temporary increase expires in 2016.

The Associated Press contributed.