Postage required?
June 26, 2010 2:36 PM   Subscribe

How can I tell whether these envelopes are really "prepaid" for usps mailing?

I work at a university where we have envelopes with the logo/address on the top-right, and a uniform height barcode below the address on the middle-left. I've been told by some people from the office that these envelopes don't need a stamp (i.e. they are prepaid). However, when I called USPS and asked, the lady had no idea what this barcode was, or anything about it, and that I would need stamps. I need to send a lot of important mail today (a few hundred), so I need to know for sure whether these envelopes are valid.

There is a 6 digit number above the barcode, in the format
The barcode itself looks to be about 80 lines long, with single-wide lines and triple-wide lines.

Are there any mail experts that can tell me whether I can just send these off?
posted by lpctstr; to Work & Money (8 answers total)
Best answer: I work in a university. I put my outgoing mail in our outgoing mailbox. Our mail people pick it up. The mail people handle any and all postage for university related items. In five years, I have never put postage on anything mailed out from my department except for the few times I've mailed something personal from work, in which case I did of course put a stamp on it. This has been for both domestic and international mailings, with and without tracking numbers, mail sent by USPS, and mail sent by FedEx.

I imagine your university works much the same if you have a mail services office.
posted by zizzle at 2:46 PM on June 26, 2010

I worked for USPS some time ago, so what I say may not be current. The USPS "barcode" system does not look like a typical barcode that you might find on any product from the store. It looks more like a pixelated rectangle with a bunch of little squares and rectangles instead of stripes. I don't think what you have is prepaid postage.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:52 PM on June 26, 2010

Can you upload a picture and blur out the address and logo?
posted by desjardins at 3:35 PM on June 26, 2010

That is not postage. It's an aid for sorting mail. The only thing that counts as postage is a stamp, a meter imprint or an indicia.
posted by DandyRandy at 3:41 PM on June 26, 2010

I'm not a mail expert, but I used to do mailings at a university. There is such thing as a pre-paid barcode, but these are labels that you print via an account with an authorized provider, where you keep money in an account that gets subtracted each time you print a barcode. I don't think this is what you have, because as Old Geezer says, it's a very different-looking barcode. In any case, it's more likely a university would use a postage meter.

Based on your description of the barcode being below the return address, I can't imagine what this would be for, unless it's simply a barcoded version of the university's return address. Officially, the kind of barcoding you're talking about is used for routing/sorting bulk mail and is specific to each recipient's address/zipcode.

It doesn't make sense that you say the university logo and address are on the top right of the envelope, because that is where the postage is supposed to go, and I don't think the USPS would accept envelopes with other printing there. Is it possible that the envelopes you have are for some kind of inter-office mailing?

In short, no, I don't think you can just send these off. I think you need to plan on getting postage.
posted by amusebuche at 3:59 PM on June 26, 2010

When I worked with mailings, the "pre-paid" envelopes weren't so much pre-paid as that the post office tallied how many people used them & billed us. We could request a rebate if someone used a stamp on one, although the rebate didn't equal the full price of the postage charged, and we didn't get the rebate at all if we didn't collect the stamped envelopes and submit them as proof. I believe the barcode told the post office who to bill.

I also found out the hard way, when paying bills, that in some cases, the bar code tells the post office where to send the mail. Using bar-coded envelopes, even when putting on your own stamps & address, can result in mis-directed mail.

There's also the little matter of the post office giving people the benefit of the doubt sometimes: It's not unheard of for them to deliver an unstamped/understamped letter with a request for re-imbursement.

Generally, though, when something is intended to be "pre-paid," it's pre-printed on the envelope.
posted by Ys at 4:04 PM on June 26, 2010

I realized in my rush to clean my apartment and then to make it to the meet up that I failed to add the second part of my answer 15 minutes after I wrote the first, which was that with pre-paid envelopes being sent for a response to be returned, mail services also handles that.

In other words, I call them and ask them for the appropriate envelope or postage marking and they provide said envelopes. I've never had to guess if it was pre-paid, and the "pre-paid" or "return postage not needed if mailed with in the United States" would appear on the included envelope.

I, too, don't think what you have is prepaid envelopes.
posted by zizzle at 9:05 PM on June 26, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. It turns out the barcode is for outgoing mail in a campus box, and so someone puts a stamp on it for us.
posted by lpctstr; at 10:50 PM on July 4, 2010

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