Bail out the Post Office by returning junk mail? Not so fast

An idea by my former WalletPop colleague Zac Bissonnette to help keep the U.S. Postal Service afloat by mailing those pesky pre-paid junk mail envelopes from credit card companies back to the companies at their expense, sounds good until you get to the details.

After all, who wouldn't want to "stick it to the man" and have credit card companies pay millions of dollars to the USPS for postage on blank credit applications sent back to the companies? It's not costing you any money, right?

In fact, the proposal could hurt the Postal Service in the future in lost revenue if enough people sent the envelopes back and businesses stopped sending them. Less revenue could equal less service and layoffs. To help avoid layoffs, the USPS is allowing 44% of its workforce to retire by 2014, according to Jerry McKiernan, a postal spokesman who wasn't big on the idea of sending back blankapplications to businesses.

"I think ultimately it would discourage this type of business," McKiernan told WalletPop.

The idea thrown out on Daily Finance is simple enough: "The U.S. has 307 million people. If each person received an average of just one credit card offer a month (most adults get more than that, while children get none) and mailed it back to the bank without a signed application, at a cost to the bank of 44 cents postage, U.S. consumers could transfer $135 million a month from the banks to the Postal Service."
It's unlikely that every adult in America would do that, but even if they did, it wouldn't come close to what McKiernan said is a $7 billion loss the USPS is planning to have this year. And yes, that was $7 billion, with a "B."

McKiernan said the Postal Service gets 15 cents to 18 cents for each piece of mail it delivers for such businesses, not the full 44 cents per envelope that Daily Finance expects.

Any short-term gains would be offset by long-term losses as credit companies, magazines, department stores and others that do such business would likely stop doing such business with the USPS if they kept getting back empty envelopes, McKiernan said.

"The law of diminishing return would soon come into play," he said.

That's exactly what the Postal Service doesn't need -- diminishing return. Don't send those empty cards back to businesses who annoy you with them, however tempting that empty justice may be. Instead, get on their do-not-mail list.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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