The Postal Service has introduced a new "forever" stamp, which also costs 41 cents. This one, though, will remain valid indefinitely, regardless of future price increases.
"We had no idea," said Margo Drosos and Diana Vlahos, who came out of a Walnut Creek post office Thursday afternoon. Drosos came to the USPS outlet to buy 2-cent stamps so her 39-cent Judy Garland stamps remain usable.
The postal clerks told everyone in line about the price increase but didn't explain the forever stamp system.
"Nobody told me about this forever stamp," Drosos said. "Well, I guess I'll get rid of these 19 old stamps that I have this weekend, and then I'll buy that new kind. Good thing I send a lot of postcards."
Although they remain valid forever, the price of the new forever stamps will increase in the future. If the first-class rate rises to 44 cents, for instance, that's what forever stamps will cost thereafter. The only way to avoid that price increase is to stock up now.
James Miller, chairman of the postal board, told the Associated Press that there was 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.
The price increase comes after the Postal Service governing board accepted the 41-cent rate for first-class mail recommended in February by the independent Postal Regulatory Commission. The Postal Service originally requested 42 cents.
Although a normal first-class letter will be more expensive to mail, heavier letters will become less expensive. The 41-cent price is for the first ounce of the letter; for each additional ounce, the fee will decrease to 17 cents from the previous 24 cents.
A 2-ounce letter will cost 58 cents to mail, down from 63 cents now. A 3-ounce letter will cost 75 cents, rather than $1.13.
The Postal Service expects nearly $5 billion in extra revenue, USPS spokesman David Partenheimer told the Times. Before the increase, the annual operating revenue was $73 billion, and after the increase, it expects total revenue of $77.6 billion.
Most of that inflow is from first-class fees, which have traditionally been the backbone of the Postal Service's income.
"Private first-class letter traffic has been declining as more people use e-mail and pay bills electronically," Partenheimer said. "But overall volume is up, which is due to an increase in direct mail."
The increasing frequency of rate increases unnerves some people, including Charles Guy, the former director of the Postal Service's Office of Economics and Strategic Planning.
Monday's stamp-price increase "marks the first of what may become annual rate hikes," said Guy, now an adjunct scholar with the Lexington Institute. "If the Postal Service does not address its ballooning costs, stamp-price increases could become regular events."
The price table will change throughout, and new rules will be added. Pricing, for instance, will vary by size and shape, not just weight. If the contents of a large first-class envelope are folded and mailed in a letter-sized envelope, the mail charge may drop by as much as 39 cents.
More information is available at http://www.usps.com/prices or 800-STAMP-24 (782-6724).
Postage rates last went up in January 2006, from 37 cents to 39 cents.
Marton Dunai covers small businesses. Reach him at 925-952-2671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The rates taking effect May 14 include: