The Complicated World of Postal Endorsements
January 18, 2023   Dave Lewis

The SnailWorks wiseacre team has been staying up late at night trying to find ways to make endorsements interesting.  There are some cool quantum physics aspects to it – for example many endorsements both exist and don’t exist simultaneously.  Or maybe that’s Schrodinger’s cat I’m thinking of – whether an endorsement is alive or not depends on the observer.  Maybe I can go in that direction…

Nah, they’re just postal endorsements. 

There are a couple of flavors of endorsements.  There’s that old classic the OEL – optional endorsement line.  That’s the line that goes above the address on some flats that indicates the level of sortation.  This may impact the first two digits in your IMb, but frankly we don’t care about the OEL, at least not for our purposes here.  Let your presort software figure that one out. 

What we’re talking about here are Ancillary Endorsements.  You know ‘em, you love ‘em, but you’re not sure what they mean:

  • Address Service Requested
  • Change Service Requested
  • Forwarding Service Requested
  • Return Service Requested

These endorsements tell USPS what you would like them to do with UAA (Undeliverable As Addressed) mail pieces.  Without instructions, USPS will follow their default process:  Throw away your Marketing Mail, and forward or return your First-Class Mail.  Neither of these will help you know what was delivered, what wasn’t, and where the addressee may have gone.  To get that, you need ACS – Address Correction Service.  ACS comes with a variety of options, so the Postal Service needs to know which option you want, and what to do with the mail piece.  The endorsement (which lives in the IMb) tells them.  “ACS Instructions” would probably be a better name than “Ancillary Endorsements”, and that’s how you should think of them – they are really instructions for handling your UAA mail.

Here is a wildly oversimplified description of what each one does:

Address Service Requested:

  • The piece will be returned with a new address. 

Change Service Requested:

  • The piece will be disposed of, and you will get an address change notice.

Forwarding Service Requested:

  • The piece will be forwarded if a forwarding address is available.

Return Service Requested:

  • The piece will be returned with a corrected address or reason for non-delivery.

These definitions are vastly oversimplified – there are different rules for different classes of mail, and different times since the move occurred.  Most of them have an “Option 1” and an “Option 2.”  Bottom line – it’s complicated, selecting the wrong one can be expensive.  You can read the details here in DMM Section 507 – Mailer Services.

Here is the important point – These are not the endorsements you are looking for (no, this is not a Jedi mind trick!):

Do not print these endorsements on your mail pieces.  Ever.  These endorsements actually live in your Intelligent Mail barcode.  Printing the actual endorsements in human-readable form can generate a lot of expense.  You really only need to print one of two endorsements:

  • For Marketing Mail (including nonprofit) print: “Electronic Service Requested
  • For First-Class Mail print – nothing.  An endorsement is implied on First-Class Mail

We told you it got a little metaphysical. 

The printed endorsement just serves the purpose of telling the letter carrier not to throw the piece away but, rather, to return it to the forwarding unit for processing.   First-Class Mail doesn’t need an endorsement because First-Class Mail is returned to forwarding processing by default. 

When a piece of mail with the correct endorsement (ESR or nothing) goes to Address Change Processing, the IMb will be read and the appropriate handling will be applied based on that requested in your IMb Service Type ID. 

Most of our Marketing Mail customers choose Change Service Requested.  With this service, their mail piece will be discarded, but the address correction or reason for non-delivery will be sent electronically to the mailer.  Most folks don’t really want the piece back.  Again, you should not actually print “Change Service Requested” on your envelope.  “Electronic Service Requested” is the one to print.

Confused?  You deserve to be.  The processing of UAA mail is one of the more complicated aspects of commercial mail, but it is also a great opportunity to cut the costs of wasted mail.  The key is to work with a trusted partner – your mail service provider, or with SnailWorks – to make sure you’re using the right endorsement in the right place.  We’ll make it easy.