How to Hold Mail During Vacation

USPS offers Informed Delivery, mail holds and even temporary forwarding to help you manage mail while away.
JT Genter
By JT Genter 

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Whether porch pirates plague your neighborhood or you just want to avoid coming home to a stuffed mailbox, travelers have options of what to do with mail that doesn't involve calling in a favor from a friend.

The United States Postal Service offers three services you can utilize when traveling. Let's look at USPS Informed Delivery, how to hold mail and when you should consider temporarily forwarding your mail.

Informed Delivery by USPS

Informed Delivery is a free service offered by the U.S. Postal Service that lets you see what mail will be delivered. Anyone with a residential mail address can enroll to get an email each morning with scans of the mail that will be delivered that day.

This service is nice when you're home but can come in handy when traveling. For example, say you're waiting on just one more tax form to finish your taxes. You can see if it's delivered while traveling with USPS Informed Delivery.

Or perhaps your credit card company sends you a replacement card in the mail while you're on an extended vacation. That's exactly what happened to me recently when Citi sent a replacement for a compromised card. Rather than letting a credit card sit in your mailbox, maybe this is when you call in a favor from a neighbor or friend to go pick it up.

In addition to regular mail, USPS will let you know if you're receiving packages through USPS. USPS will show which packages are arriving with that day's mail, and you'll also see what's coming in the next few days.

In addition to the daily emails, you can log into your Informed Delivery dashboard to see scans of your mail, package tracking and more. You can even flag the U.S. Postal Inspection Service if a scanned piece of mail didn't arrive.

Limitations of USPS Informed Delivery

Overall, USPS Informed Delivery is a convenient service. And you can't beat the price. It's free! But, having used USPS Informed Delivery for years, I can confirm that the service isn't perfect.

Sometimes mail arrives that wasn't scanned. That's because USPS only scans letter-sized mailpieces that can be processed through automated equipment. Periodically, multiple mail pieces are pulled into the scanner simultaneously, making it difficult to see some of the pieces.

Also, keep in mind that USPS only scans the outside of the envelope. However, the mail scans are sometimes powerful enough to reveal what's inside — for better or worse.

How to enroll in USPS Informed Delivery

You can enroll in USPS Informed Delivery in just three steps. First, you'll need to verify your home address. Then, you'll need to create an account with USPS if you don't already have one. Finally, you'll need to verify your identity to make sure that only you will be able to see your mail.

USPS mail hold

USPS Informed Delivery is a great tool for knowing what's coming in. However, you should consider holding your mail if you're going on a long trip.

Even if you have a secure mailbox, your mail could pile up so much that it could prevent your mail carrier from being able to deliver additional mail. When that happens, USPS starts collecting your mail at the post office. Then, if you don't claim that mail within 10 days, USPS returns it to the sender. So, it's a good idea to submit a formal USPS Hold Mail Request.

When and how long can you request a mail hold?

Advanced planners rejoice: USPS will let residential mail customers schedule a USPS mail hold up to 30 days before the hold begins. Procrastinators aren't out of luck; You can place your mail on hold until 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (midnight Pacific Standard Time) on the day you want to begin your hold.

USPS mail holds are designed for holds between 3 and 30 days. If you will be away from home for more than 30 days, USPS recommends that you consider mail forwarding instead. Whether you're staying with family or renting an extended vacation rental, you can submit a USPS temporary change of address request that will forward your mail to a new address for anywhere from 15 days up to a year.

Getting your mail at the end of a mail hold

When setting up a mail hold, you have two options for what USPS should do when your mail hold expires. You can direct USPS to deliver all your mail at once to your home address, or USPS will hold the mail for pick up at your local post office.

Finding the time to head to your local post office during office hours may be a hassle. So, it may seem that delivering all of your mail would be the obvious choice. Just note that your mail carrier will only deliver the mail that fits in your mailbox. So, you'll need to go to your local post office to pick it up if you receive more mail.

How to hold mail at the post office

You'll need a USPS online account to submit a Hold Mail Request online. Those that don't have an account can enroll here. If you don't want to create an online account, you'll need to visit your local post office to fill out a Form 8076 or call 1-800-ASK-USPS to submit your mail hold request.

Once enrolled and logged into your account, you'll be prompted to check if a mail hold is available for your address. Next, you'll need to verify your identity.

Finally, you'll be prompted to select the dates for your mail hold request and your preference for how your accumulated mail will be delivered. You have the option of leaving additional instructions. And that's it! Just select the "schedule mail hold" button to submit your request.

If you're wondering what to do with your mail while on vacation …

The U.S. Postal Service offers a variety of tools that travelers can use to manage their mail while traveling. For everyday use and short trips, consider enrolling in Informed Delivery to get a daily email with scans of your mail.

For longer trips, submitting a USPS mail hold request is the best practice to prevent mail theft or a stuffed mailbox. If you're going to be away from home for more than 30 days, consider utilizing a temporary change of address request to forward your mail to wherever you are.

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