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How the U.S. Postal Service Works

Post Office Services

post office line
People wait in line inside a post office in New York City on Aug. 5, 2020. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Postal Service offers services and products beyond delivery. You can buy packaging, for example, ranging from bubble-pack envelopes to cardboard boxes. You can also buy postcards, packaging tape and, of course, stamps. At the USPS website, you can calculate your postage and print it on your own printer, or call to have a package picked up. You can also purchase greeting cards and gifts, such as toy mail trucks and themed T-shirts.

Post Office Boxes

Post office (P.O.) boxes have been around for more than 200 years. These small rectangular boxes are usually located in an area of the post office that is accessible 24 hours a day. You can rent one for a relatively small fee that is based on the size of the box. The boxes themselves are built into an interior wall of the post office so that the locked side is accessible to customers and the other side is open so that employees can insert mail.

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There are several benefits to having a P.O. box. It can be more secure, you can often get your mail earlier in the day and it can disguise the fact that your new business is really just you in your spare room at home. Also, if you change addresses within the same city, you don't have to change your mailing address. Some small towns actually require residents to have P.O. boxes.

Money Orders

Money orders are a safe and inexpensive alternative to sending cash or personal checks through the mail. You can purchase them from any post office or rural mail carrier. You pay for them with cash or traveler's checks only; no checks or credit cards. You can purchase domestic postal money orders for up to $1,000; international money-order limits vary per country, but the maximum overall is $700. The fee for a money order depends on how much is being wired, but is reasonable. For instance, sending up to $500 domestically is only $1.25. Money orders can be cashed at any post office or deposited at banks and other financial institutions. And if they're damaged, lost or stolen, they can be replaced. The USPS offers domestic and international money orders and an international money-wiring service [source: USPS].

Extra Security

The USPS offers several services for additional security, proof of delivery and recovery in the event of a loss. These services include: Certified Mail, Registered Mail, Signature Confirmation and the ability to purchase insurance coverage up to $5,000 for lost, damaged or missing items. The insurance limit for items sent Registered Mail is $50,000. These services provide many options for delivery confirmation, obtaining copies of signatures of acceptance, confirmation of shipment and tracking of high-value items [source: USPS].

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