The Postal Service's governing board agreed Monday to accept the new 41-cent rate for first class mail recommended in February by the independent Postal Regulatory Commission, although it may ask for reconsideration on some of the rates.
The board also agreed to the proposal for a "forever stamp," that will always be valid for mailing a letter no matter how much rates increase.
James C. Miller III, chairman of the postal board, said the forever stamp could go on sale as soon as next month, at the 41-cent rate.
There will be no blackout period before a rate change, USPS spokesman Mark Saunders told CBSNews.com: That is, the stamps will remain on sale up to and through the next rate change. "That stamp will always be available," he said.
For most people, the first-class rate has the greatest impact and the cost of sending a letter will rise from 39 cents to 41 cents, a penny less than the Postal Service had originally requested.
But folks sending heavier letters — such as wedding invitations or tax returns — will see a reduction in the price.
That's because the 41-cent rate is for the first ounce, but each additional ounce will cost just 17 cents, down from the current 24 cents.
That means a two-ounce letter will cost 58 cents to mail, compared with 63 cents now.
Also expected to be attractive to many people is the forever stamp.
The first forever stamps will sell for 41 cents apiece, but they won't have a price printed on them and they will remain valid for sending a letter regardless of any future rate increases.
While a forever stamp will always be valid for mailing a latter, that doesn't mean the price won't go up. If rates were to increase to 45 cents, for example, that's what a forever stamp would sell for. But stamps already purchased at a lower rate could still be used without adding extra postage.
The design or designs and exactly how the forever stamp will be marked will be unveiled early next week, Saunders said. Four billion of those stamps have already been printed, and if more are needed, the USPS can produce more quickly.
In a telephone interview, Miller said there is no limit on sales of the forever stamps, but he said they are generally intended for consumers and won't be produced in the massive rolls often used by businesses.
There will also be non-denominated fixed-price rate-change stamps. These likely were printed soon after the last postal rate increase, but no details about them have been released.
However, a participant in The Virtual Stamp Club stamp collecting discussion board said these rate-change stamps show a U.S. flag over a tan background.
Also coming right after the May 14 rate change will be 15 different "Star Wars" stamps, all at the new first-class rate. A member of The Virtual Stamp Club said the entire sheet will feature an overall design of which the different-shaped stamps will be a part.
Shape-based pricing is also included in the new rates. For example, if the contents of a first-class large envelope are folded and placed in a letter-sized envelope, mailers can reduce postage by as much as 39 cents per piece.
But the Postal Service had asked that "non-machinable flats" — odd-sized and -shaped pieces that can't go through automated devices — get a surcharge. It didn't get it. "The Governors believe this warrants further analysis to ensure there are incentives for mailers to provide letters that can be processed at lower cost on efficient sorting equipment," the USPS said in a press release.
Implementation of one part of the new rates was delayed until July 15. That covers higher prices for magazines and newspapers. Miller said publishers need extra time to update their computers to the new rates.
The USPS is going along with the commission's recommendations, but asking for reconsideration and lower rates in two other areas:
One is standard mail flats, a category largely composed of catalogs. The commission recommended an increase for some catalog mailers of as much as 40 percent, more than double what the Postal Service had proposed.
The Priority Mail flat-rate box was set at $9.15 by the commission. The Postal Service had recommended $8.80; it's presently $8.10.
With more and more billing and bill-paying going to the Internet, the USPS is finding the shipping of small packages to be an increasingly lucrative area, reports CBSNews.com's Lloyd de Vries. "While bills can be paid online, you still have to ship the goods you sell on eBay somehow, and the USPS wants to be a big player in that competitive shipping market," de Vries says.
The USPS applied for the higher rates last May and the regulatory commission issued its decision Feb. 26.
Under new legislation the regulatory commission has been directed to devise a new, simplified system for setting postal rates, but the Postal Service will have to seek one more increase under the old system in the meantime.
Miller said the governors have not decided whether to do that.
The rates taking effect May 14 include:
- Letters, bill payments, greeting cards: 41 cents for the first ounce, up from 39 cents.
- Wedding invitation (2-ounces), 58 cents, down from 63 cents.
- Additional ounces, 17 cents, down from 24 cents.
- Postcard, 26 cents, up from 24 cents.
- Priority Mail flat-rate envelope, $4.60, up from $4.05.
- Express Mail flat-rate envelope, $16.25, up from $14.40.
- Parcel Post, 1-pound package, $4.50, up from 3.95.
- Bank statement, 2 ounces, presorted, 45.9 cents, down from 54.4 cents.
- Utility bill, barcoded, 31.2 cents, up from 29.3 cents.