If they haven't already started, businesses should begin preparing for the postage rate increase effective Jan. 10, postal officials say.
That's because there's more to the rate increase than the one-cent increase on a first-class letter.
For example, parcel post (the rate used by most retailers) is going up 12.4 percent, catalog rates are going up 2.9 percent and third class (the rate applicable to direct mailers) jumps 2.6 percent.
Even nonprofit organizations and churches will see a 14 percent increase on their mailers.
So if your company or organization does a lot of its business through the mail, you might want to check with your local postmaster before preparing your postage budget, said Roy Hood, postmaster for Waynesboro, Ga., and the district rate increase coordinator.
"There are so many different rates (for parcels) because of the different sizes, weights and distances involved," Mr. Hood said. "There are even some discounts available on large volumes of packages."
Each postmaster receives a kit designed to assist customers, particularly business customers, with mailing questions, Mr. Hood said.
Businesses using metered mail machines, such as those manufactured by Pitney Bowes, should be receiving upgraded software reflecting the new postal rates. Other systems are usually upgraded automatically via modem, he said.
With all new rates increases and discounts factored in, the new postage rate works out to a 2.9 percent across-the-board increase.
"This is probably one of the least severe rate increases," Mr. Hood said.
The new rates include a cut in the price of sending each additional ounce of first-class mail from 23 cents to 22 cents. Thus, a 1-ounce letter will go up to 33 cents, 2-ounce letters will be the same as now, 55 cents, and heavier letters will drop from the current 78 cents to 77 cents.
In other typical price changes, a priority package will rise from $3 to $3.20; sending a local newspaper will rise from 14.5 cents to 15.7 cents; a national magazine from 27.1 cents to 29.1 cents and a parcel post package that now costs $2.42 to send will cost $2.74 after the new rate takes effect.
Pre-sorted mail (a discounted form of mail, such as utility bills and business reply mail, that arrives at the post office pre-sorted by the mailer) will increase one cent from 29.5 cents to 30.5 cents. Pre-sorted postcards will remain at 18 cents.
However, the annual fee companies and organizations pay to receive the pre-sort discount is increasing from $85 to $100. The cost to rent a post office box is also going up, about 10.7 percent, but the cost of buying a money order will go down, from 85 cents to 80 cents.
Although the average parcel rate is going up 12.4 percent, the maximum size package (which includes length and girth) increases to 130 inches, up from 108.
And starting March 1999, all letter carriers will be issued hand scanners, similar to the ones used by parcel companies such as UPS, as part of the postal service's new delivery confirmation system.
Letter (1 ounce): 33 cents, up 1 cent
Letter (2 ounces): 55 cents, no change
Letter (3 ounces): 77 cents, down 1 cent
Pre-sort: 30.5 cents, up 1 cent
Priority mail: $3.20, up 20 cents
Express mail ( 1/2 pound): $11.75, up $1
Express mail (2 pound): $15.75, up 75 cents