The impending changes to the U.S. Postal Service are about to give new meaning to the term "snail mail."
When the post office makes cuts to mail service come spring to stem billions of dollars in losses, it will not only slow mail delivery, but eliminate the possibility of first-class letters and other mailings being delivered to nearby areas in one day. Currently, around 42% of first-class mail travels from mailbox to destination in a single day.
The U.S. Postal Service, suffering through a major and extended financial crisis, has announced plans to shutter about 252 of its 487 mail processing centers. The cuts are critical to the post office's survival: For the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the Postal Service racked up a $5.1 billion net loss, Darleen Reid, senior public relations representative for the USPS, tells DailyFinance. "Any business that has no customers has to make changes."
Here's what you need to know about the unprecedented changes to the U.S. mail delivery system, and some tips that will keep you from going, well, postal.
Your Daily Paper Could be a Thing of the Past
Currently, first-class mail promises delivery to homes and businesses in one to three business days. The proposed cuts will shift that to a two- to three-day window, according to the USPS.
Based on that, consumers in the habit of getting their media the old-fashioned way -- by regular mail -- might want to rethink those choices. If you or your business relies on the mailed delivery of daily newspapers and time-sensitive periodicals, you may find yourself running behind the times.
Because the post office will be operating with fewer processing facilities, "Customers could receive their daily publications a day later than they regularly do," she says. "It's more likely than not that we will not be able to provide same-day service."
To avoid that delay, consumers should consider subscribing to publications online.
And if you're a Netflix (NFLX) fan who still prefers to receive DVDs-by-mail, you might want to consider switching to the company's streaming-video service, says Jim Corridore, an analyst with S&P Capital IQ who follows the shipping industry. Companies such as Amazon.com (AMZN) and Hulu (GOOG) also offer streaming video services.
Plan Ahead, Pay Online
If you're sending something through the mail that must reach a destination by a certain time, plan ahead, says Sue Brennan, a spokeswoman for the USPS.
"Consumers sending checks or bill payments out should give [it] an extra day, but this only applies to mail in a localized area," Brennan says. "If they are sending mail across the country, it will still be delivered in a three-day period."
Those people who are still wedded to dropping their bills in the mail would be wise to switch to online bill-paying, Corridore says. Virtually every bill can be paid over the Internet: "Your mortgage bill can be paid online, your cable bill can be paid online."
No Slowdown for Mail-Order Prescriptions
The Postal Service cuts have also raised concerns for the millions of Americans who rely on mail-order pharmacies for prescription drugs. Will this group -- which includes many people with limited mobility, such as some seniors and the home-bound -- still be able to get their medications in a timely fashion?
Rest easy, says Brennan: "Mail order prescription drugs are sent via package services or Priority [mail], and there won't be any change in that," she says.
More broadly, delivery times for most of the more-expensive classes of mail, such as Priority Mail and Express Mail, will not change.
Medco, the pharmacy benefit manager which runs one of the nation's largest mail order pharmacy, says it doesn't foresee delivery disruptions. "Our commitment is to make sure that our members get the right medication in a timely fashion," Jennifer Luddy, a spokeswoman, tells DailyFinance.
The company, which shipped 110 million prescriptions last year, relies on the U.S. Postal Service for most of its shipments, but augments that service with UPS (UPS) and FedEx (FDX).
"The bottom line is that we don't anticipate the [postal] changes will have any meaningful affect," she says.