With USPS's new 'forever' stamp, no need to worry about rate changes

Mail carriers will be delivering some good news and some bad news this week.

The bad news: Stamp prices are expected to rise 2 cents in May to 41 cents, the Postal Regulatory Commission announced Monday. The good news: With the introduction of a 'forever stamp,' it may be the last time Americans have to fiddle with pesky 2- or 3-cent stamps to make up postage differences.

Beginning in May, customers would be able purchase the stamps in booklets of 20 at the regular rate of a first-class stamp. As the name implies, 'forever stamps' will retain their first-class mailing value for all eternity, even when the postage rate goes up.

The new 'forever stamp' is the United States Postal Service's (USPS) answer to customer complaints about frequent rate increases. The May hike will be the fifth in a decade. Postal rates have risen because of inflation, competition from online bill paying, and the rising costs of employee benefits, including healthcare, says Mark Saunders, a spokesman for USPS.

The USPS expects some financial gain from the interest generated from sales of the 'forever stamp' and the savings from not printing as many 2- or 3-cent stamps.

"It's not your grandfather's stamp," says Mr. Saunders. "It could be your great- grandchildren's stamp."

Other countries, including Canada, England, and Finland use similar stamps, also called nondenominational.

The USPS has considered introducing the 'forever stamp' since last spring. Since then, USPS and the independent Regulatory Commission have debated the merits of nondenominated postage.

Market research conducted by USPS in 2006 showed that customers liked the idea of a forever stamp, although there was little indication they planned to buy more than they usually do. The USPS found that customers were less likely to purchase stamps as rates increased.

Don Schilling, who has collected stamps for 50 years and keeps a Web log titled The Stamp Collecting Round-Up, says he's interested in the public's reaction.

"This is an entirely new class of stamps," Mr. Schilling says. "I'm going to stock up on these puppies." He adds that he'll buy the stamps because he will be able to use them for a long period of time, not because they could make him rich – the volume printed will be too large for collectors to go nuts over them.

"We won't be able to send our kids to college on these," he says, laughing.

The USPS board of governors has yet to accept the commission's decision, but tends to follow its recommendations. No plans have been announced yet for the design of the stamps.

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