What Does Undeliverable Mean at USPS?

USPS generally does a great job delivering mail, as the company delivers more than 173 million pieces of First-Class mail every single day.

However, while most packages get where they need to go, there are times when USPS has to label letters and packages as ‘undeliverable.’ If you want to find out what undeliverable mail is and how to avoid it, then keep reading to see what I learned!

What Does ‘Undeliverable’ Mean at USPS?

If a piece of USPS mail fails to meet certain conditions, then it is considered to be ‘undeliverable.’ To ensure your mail is not undeliverable, it must be addressed correctly, addresses must be readable, and there must be proper postage affixed to the envelope or box. Additionally, the contents of the mail should not include any restricted items.

If you’d like to learn more about why USPS deems mail undeliverable, how USPS handles postage for undeliverable mail, and more, keep reading this article for more facts and tips!

Why Did USPS Say My Package Was Undeliverable?

There are several reasons why USPS would consider a piece of mail to be undeliverable. Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • No postage or insufficient postage
  • Incomplete, illegible, or incorrect address
  • Addressee not at the address (i.e. moved or is deceased)
  • Mail is unclaimed
  • Mail is refused by the addressee at the time of delivery
  • Minimum criteria for mailability not met (i.e. incorrect box or envelope size)

These above reasons mostly describe a mistake or misunderstanding on the part of the sender or the addressee. However, there are other occasions where mail is considered undeliverable because of USPS address adjustments.

Listed below are some cases when address adjustments may lead to mail being marked undeliverable:

  • Renumbering of houses
  • Renaming of streets
  • Conversion from rural-style addresses to city-style addresses
  • Realignment of rural or highway contract routes
  • Conversion from rural or highway contract service to city delivery service
  • Consolidation of routes
  • Consolidation of Post Offices or adjustment of delivery districts

How Does USPS Handle Postage Due Undeliverable Mail?

How Does USPS Handle Postage Due Undeliverable Mail?

One of the main reasons why USPS considers certain mailpieces undeliverable is because they either have insufficient postage or they’re lacking postage entirely.

Depending on the circumstances, USPS treats these “postage due” items differently.

If an item doesn’t have postage, or it appears that the postage fell off, it is endorsed as “Returned for Postage Mail” and sent to the return address listed on the mail piece.

On the other hand, if an item doesn’t have enough postage, it will be delivered as “postage due,” and the letter carrier will write on the item to show how much is left to be paid.

In such cases, the recipient must pay the difference in cash before the mail is delivered.

In a similar vein, if an item with insufficient postage cannot be delivered as addressed (including if the recipient refuses to pay for and accepts it), it is endorsed as “Returned for Additional Postage” and sent to the return address on the package.

Some items are treated as dead mail and are sent to the Mail Recovery Center. However, it may be possible to recover the item by completing a Missing Mail Application.

If an item has insufficient postage and cannot be returned to the sender, it may be due to the following reasons:

  • There’s no return address
  • The delivery and return addresses are identical
  • The delivery and return addresses are different but are for the same person or organization

What If My Mail Is Undeliverable?

If a package you’ve sent hasn’t arrived within 7 days from the date of mailing, you have a few options, such as the following:

  • Submit a search request in the Missing Mail Application on the USPS website
  • Call your Consumer Affairs representative via 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777) and have them submit a Missing Mail Application on your behalf
  • Visit your local post office and have an employee submit a search request for you

If USPS is able to match your mailpiece to your request, then they will forward the item to the address you specify.

What Does USPS Do With Undeliverable Mail?

If USPS is not able to deliver mail as addressed, then they will return it to the sender using the return address on the piece of mail.

If the mailpiece is addressed incorrectly and has no return address, the mailpiece will either be handled by your local post office or sent to the Mail Recovery Center.

Mail sent to the Mail Recovery Center (sometimes referred to as the Dead Letter Office) will be opened in order to check for an address to send the mail to.

If there’s an address present, USPS will reseal the mailpiece and send it to the given address.

On the other hand, if postal workers don’t find an address, one of two things will happen:

  • Mail valued at less than $25 will be destroyed
  • Mail worth $25 or more is kept and auctioned off bi-weekly, and USPS keeps the profits from the auction.

If you want to learn more, you can also see our posts on whether or not USPS delivers on Sundays, where is my USPS mail, and if USPS forwards mail.

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Marques Thomas

Marques Thomas graduated with a MBA in 2011. Since then, Marques has worked in the retail and consumer service industry as a manager, advisor, and marketer. Marques is also the head writer and founder of QuerySprout.com.

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