Should You Print Postage or Get a Postage Meter?
There are basically two ways to legally print postage in the United States - using your computer or using a postage meter.
- Postage meters are postage printers that are linked directly to the United States Postal Service. Using a phone line, postage meters are loaded with a specified amount of postage. To print postage, users enter the amount and insert an envelope or label into the machine for printing. Postage meters are usually leased under a long-term contract.
- If you want to print postage labels from your computer, you need a postage-printing software (free from most providers) along with a standard printer and internet access (linking the computer to the United States Postal Service). Using the software, users can calculate the exact amount of postage and print the "indica" or postage mark on labels, envelopes or plain paper.
The software will also allow users to add special USPS services such as Certified Mail, Delivery Confirmation, or Return Receipt. The software can also import and print addresses from most computer address books.
Often, individuals print metered postage because of the cost savings. For instance, small businesses that use a meter solution are up to 18% more productive compared to businesses that do not use a meter; most likely because of the limited trips to the Post Office and the fact that metered mail may be delivered faster
In addition, businesses save up to 20% a year in metered postage because you can print postage labels down to the exact cent every time -- not to mention that metered mail looks more professional.
Before beginning your research, you should answer these questions:
Metered mail options: postage meters
Postage meters provide you with a convenient, easy way to print postage for all mail services except periodicals. Services include First-Class Mail, Priority Mail, Express Mail, Package Services, International Mail, Presorted First-Class Mail Services.
Postage Meters are a great solution when you need to send high volume mailings. They also support presorted first-class mail services if you are mailing more than 500 pieces at once. This can save you a lot of money. However, you will still need to apply to the United States Postal Service for a permit to be able to use bulk mail rates.
Some postage meter models have semi-automatic or automatic letter feed, envelope sealers, stackers, tape dispensers and fast printing speeds. Be careful with low-priced postage meters since they usually don't include the necessary add-ons for full functionality such as the feeder, sealer, stacker and tape dispensers which can be purchased separately. Price ranges vary but they are usually several hundred dollars.
Printing addresses with postage meters
Unlike software-based postage printing, postage meters won't print the address on your mail so you will have to print address labels first. To make the process easier, you can buy a label printer which can cost between $100 and $300.
As with any other system, mistakes can happen and you may misprint postage. With most postage meters, you will need to go to the Post Office to get a refund of your money.
Tracking your spending
Some postage meters have accounting codes that allow you to track spending. These are great to track spending by client, department or cost code. There is a limited amount of codes available and there may be a surcharge for enabling additional codes.
Sending large or odd-shaped packages
When sending packages or odd-shaped mail, it is not always possible to print the indicia directly onto the mailing piece. In these cases, strips of adhesive paper, called tape, are fed through the meter and affixed to the package. If you will be sending packages, it is worth getting a base that has a tape dispenser.
When signing up for a free trial, keep in mind that postage meter vendors may ask you to purchase a certain amount of postage up front. They may also charge you for shipping and handling charges for both delivery and return of their postage meter after your lease is up. Also be aware that it sometimes takes a few weeks to receive your meter.
When considering a postage meter, spend some time reading and understanding the contract. These contracts can be exceedingly complex and will usually require you to keep the service for multiple years. As with any long-term lease, significant cancellation fees will apply if you cancel before your contract is over.
Here are a few items you should take into consideration before signing the postage meter contract:
- Special ink cartridges - these can cost up to $0.10 per print. Look on the box or online at the number of impressions your cartridge is expected to yield and divide by the cost.
- Scale rentals and extras - Beyond the postage meter, there are a range of additional pieces of hardware that you may be charged for. For example, the scale.
- Equipment insurance, shipping and handling and maintenance agreements - these additional fees may be added to your monthly bill and can add significantly to the total cost. One-time fees include shipping costs for delivery and/or replacement of the meter (approximately $25). Monthly charges include equipment insurance (up to $12 per month, which you don't have to get from them, but they make it more difficult to use someone else's).
- Reset fees - Reset fees are "processing" or other charges added to the amount of postage you buy. For example, if you load $200 into your postage meter, there is often a $5-10 fee that is charged on top of the postage.
- Charges to update postage rates and other software maintenance agreements - Many postage meter companies charge you to change the postage rates when rate increases occur. Most postage meters won't work after a rate increase unless you have done the "software upgrade."
- Automatic annual price increases - Many postage meter companies will raise your rates every year depending on how much postage you used in the prior year. So verify that the price you are being offered will be locked in for the life of your contract.
- Charges for a company logo or seasonal images - If you want to print a logo or other message next to your postage, some meter companies will charge you up to $95 per image. Keep in mind that adding a logo or image will increase your ink costs.
Metered mail options: software-based postage printing
Software-based postage printing allows you to print postage and manage all your mailing and shipping needs using your existing computer. You just need the software, a PC, and an internet connection.
Unlike postage meters, software solutions allow you to print postage and addresses on various types of labels, directly on envelopes, or even on plain paper. When you print postage, the amount will be deducted from your postage account. There's no surcharge - you just pay a monthly service fee. NOTE: The amount of money you save in time every month is usually much greater than your monthly service fee.
Software-based postage printing
- Special offers: When signing up for a trial, you can start printing postage right away. Companies sometimes offer you free postage and a free digital scale to get you started.
- No proprietary inks: Software postage meters use the standard ink used in your desktop printer and ends up costing about $0.001 per print. There is no need to buy special inks.
- Postage rate increases: Unlike postage meters, software-based solutions will update postage rates at no extra charge.
Software-based postage printing solutions provide you with a convenient, easy way to print postage for all mail services except periodicals. Services include First-Class Mail, Priority Mail, Express Mail, Package Services and International Mail.
Print postage and address in one step
Software-based postage meters allow you to print both the indicia (postage) and address at the same time. They also use the USPS database to validate your delivery address to ensure fast, accurate delivery. Software solutions can even send an email to the recipient to inform them that the package is on its way.
Delivery decisions made easy
Software-based solutions like Stamps.com give you an estimate of the delivery time for all available USPS services. This helps to make the most cost-effective shipping decisions.
Integration with most address books
Software-based postage programs can import delivery addresses from Microsoft Outlook and many other popular address books and contact management software. You can add or edit addresses anytime. With some vendors like Stamps.com, you can even print postage directly from MS Word, Outlook and Corel WordPerfect.
Electronic refunds for postage misprints
As with any other system, mistakes can happen and you may misprint postage. Unlike postage meters, you don't need to go to the Post Office to get a refund of your money if you make a mistake using postage software -- you can do it electronically.
Tracking your postage spending
Software-based postage solutions have accounting codes that allow you to track spending. Codes can be used to track spending by client, department or cost code.
No long-term contracts
Software-based postage printing vendors do not require a multi-year agreement. Unlike postage meter agreements, you can cancel the service anytime. There is only a monthly subscription fee to access the service, and there are no additional costs like postage surcharges or special supplies.
If you frequently use Certified Mail and Return Receipt, a software-based postage solution simplifies the preparation of the forms. Instead of filling out forms for each piece of mail, you use a custom-designed one-piece form to print your postage, addresses, the Certified Mail receipt and the green card all in one step.
Some companies like allow you to print all the USPS mail classes and as well as get access to other shipping services from one account. Whether you have an existing FedEx account or want to start a new one, you can use your existing address book and take advantage of discounted services.
If you send International mail, look for software solutions like Stamps.com that have automated custom forms that make the process easier.
Software solutions also offer discounted insurance without requiring you to drop the package at the local Post Office. If insurance is important to you, a software solution is the way to go.
Which postage printing system is best for you?
If you send a low to medium volume of mail (fewer than 500 pieces at once) and few packages, a software-based postage printing solution might be the best option for you. Or, if cost is a very important factor, or if you send International mail or regularly use special services like Certified Mail with Return Receipt or Insurance, you may also want to consider a software solution.
If you send very high volume mailings (more than 500 at once) and prefer a semi-automated or automated system that will even seal the envelope, consider a postage meter instead. It may cost more, but the time savings involved in large mailings should make it worthwhile.Ready to Compare Postage Meters Price Quotes?