USPS NCOA Requirement

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In return for the discount postage rates it offers for First Class Presort and Standard Mail services, the USPS requires that both of these types of mail meet its Move Update standards. This is also called the NCOA processing requirement.

USPS NCOA processingThe Postal Service maintains a sizable registry of people and organizations who have recently moved; and it compiles this info in its National Change of Address (NCOA) database. Mailings that meet the Move Update standard must be checked against the NCOA database, and updated for any address changes.

This is good for mailers, since it helps ensure that addresses are up-to-date. And it’s good for the Post Office, since it minimizes the expense of handling all those bad addresses.

The downside to the NCOA requirement is that it costs money. And for a small mailer with a small list, an NCOA processing fee can seem just plain silly.

Luckily, the USPS provides two ways to avoid the NCOA requirement:

Add “Or Current Resident” to all your addresses

Since you’re letting the Post Office know that you’d like the mail delivered to the addresses regardless of who lives there, the USPS will waive the NCOA requirement.

To receive the waiver, you can add the line “Or Current Resident” (or “Or Current Occupant”) under the name line on each of your address labels.

Add an Ancillary Service Endorsement on your mailing piece

There are a few special postal instructions called ancillary service endorsements which you can print in the addressing area, and which instruct the Post Office what to do if the mailing piece is mailed to someone who has moved.

Here are a few of the common ancillary endorsements:

  • Forwarding Service Requested
  • Return Service Requested
  • Address Service Requested

A full description of the USPS ancillary service endorsements is in Service Guide 507, a PDF file at the USPS site.

With an ancillary service endorsement, the USPS will waive the NCOA processing requirement. But be aware: you will be on the hook to pay the Post Office for subsequent postal fees that may result, depending on the ancillary service endorsement you select.

It’s worth noting that First-Class Presorted mail actually includes forwarding, or mail return, as part of its service. So, for First-Class Presort mail at least, adding “Forwarding Service Requested” would result in exactly the same level of cost and service without the endorsement.  In this case, it makes sense to use this endorsement to avoid the NCOA requirement.

By the way, if you decide to use an ancillary address, be sure to add a return address to your layout. (A return address is usually optional, otherwise.)

The Move Update Standard

So, to summarize, the USPS’s Move Update standard requires mailings to be either 1) processed for NCOA (usually for a fee), 2) have the “Or Current Resident” line added to the address (for no fee), or 3) have an Ancillary Service Endorsement added to the layout of the mailing piece (subject to postal fees, depending on the endorsement).

It may not be pretty, but the standard is the best way for the Post Office to deal with the 40 million people per year who have to go and change their address.


Another attempt to help explain a complex world by the folks at magnetbyMail, your source for postcards, magnets and mailing.


February 18, 2013 · Posted in Profitability, Resources, Standards  

Improving Direct Mail

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OK, the secret is out: the most important factor in getting better direct mail results is improving the quality of your mailing list.

This may not seem that surprising. If you’re using really good criteria to select your mailing list, certainly you would expect improved results.

usps standardized addresses

But a quality mailing list is more than the criteria you use to create it. It is quality content in terms of accurate names and deliverable addresses.

At magnetbyMail, we see hundreds of mailing lists each year — most of them are created by our customers who send them to us. They are usually lists of alumnus, subscribers, members, prospects or clients.

And many of these lists are full of errors that would cause the Post Office all sorts of delivery problems.

Now, the good news is that we’ll do our best to make the addresses deliverable. We’ll try to normalize and validate each address provided, so that it meets US Postal standards and matches an address that really exists.

But (although we try) we can’t do miracles. If you manage a mailing list of any size, you should understand some things about Normalizing and Validating an address, to ensure that your list is in tip-top shape:

Normalizing an Address

The Post Office wants to see addresses in a certain, normalized way. They expect an address with at least three lines of information: 1) Recipient Line, 2) Delivery Line address and 3) Last Line. For example:

1500 E MAIN AVE STE 201
SPRINGFIELD VA  22162-1010

The second thing you need to know is that addressing cannot be endless, there are data capacity limits for each address.

At magnetbyMail, we’ll encode a barcode based on the address you provide; and our inkjet printer allows 45 characters per line and 7 lines per address. (Be aware that, without a barcode, the USPS automated OCR reader does not process more than 40 characters per line or 5 lines per address.)

Here’s an example of a normalized, 7-line address, that we could use to encode a barcode:

1500 E MAIN AVE STE 201

In the above example, we’ve added an Attention Line (‘Bob Smith’), a Title (‘Vice President Finance’), a Department Name (‘Finance Division’) and an Additional Delivery Line (‘Mail Stop 123′).

Note that the Additional Delivery Line appears above the (main) Delivery Line — this is because the post office processes addresses from bottom to top, lines with more ‘important’ address info need to be below less important data.

The other thing worth noting is that each line is a distinct part of the address — it is not a continuation of the previous line. Instead of splitting long names onto multiple lines, accepted abbreviations are used to help fit information onto one line.

You may provide your data as upper and lower case letters, if you prefer; we’ll output the address in upper case when we inkjet the info on our postcard magnet mailers.

Normalizing: Step by Step

There are dozens of steps that are needed to ensure an address is normalized. Here are the major ideas you should be aware of before sending us your mailing list:

Attention Names

You have plenty of flexibility with the names on your list, as long as they don’t exceed 45 characters per line. Names can be full names, or fields with parts of names (First, Middle, Last). If the name uses a suffix (ex. ‘Jr.,’ or ‘Ph.D.’) or an alumni class year (ex. ” ’1933″) please provide this data as a separate suffix field; you can combine these if you’d like (ex. “Jr., Ph.D. ’33″).

If providing a Full Name field, you create combinations of two names (ex. “Mary and Bob Smith” or “Mary Smith and Bob Jones”). If you have enough address lines to spare, you can even have a line for one full name, and an Additional Contact line for another full name. If we’re running your list through the NCOA process (more on this, later), then at least one of the names you provide needs to be associated with the provided address, according to a USPS database.

Abbreviate if Necessary

As a general rule, the Post Office prefers to have Attention Name, Organization Name and the Address Line fully spelled out. It’s better to use “Highway 64″ rather than “Hwy 64″ if you have the space.

But if space is an issue (and you would exceed 45 characters per line), you should use an accepted abbreviation. If you need to shorten the name of a business, you should use the USPS’s accepted business word abbreviations.

Remove Punctuation

The USPS prefers data without the punctuation (except for the occasional decimal point, hyphen or slash in a street number).

One Address Please

If you have two addresses for your contact, please provide one. If you provide a street address and a PO Box, we will use the PO Box address and ignore the other. If the address is “RR 3 Box 18 Bryan Dairy Rd”, then simply the box portion is best: “RR 2 Box 18″.

Related to this issue, avoid using corner addresses. That is, instead of an address like “5th and High”, the USPS needs a physical street address like “514 High St”.

The Secondary Designator

The most overlooked part of the address is the Secondary Designator. Whereas the Primary Designator is the main street number and street name (ex. ’123 Main St’), the Secondary Designator is used to describe a subset of that address, like an apartment number.

The USPS prefers that you include the Secondary Designator at the end of the Delivery Line (ex. “123 Main St., Suite 101″). But if you don’t have room, you can put the Secondary Designator on the Additional Delivery Line.

The Secondary Designator should be set up as the designator followed by the number / code. So instead of “6th Floor” it should be “Floor 6″.

If you need to abbreviate the Secondary Designator, refer to the USPS’s list of accepted abbreviations. The abbreviation of “Floor” is “Fl”, so the above example would be “Fl 6″.

Also, if you use a word (or abbreviation) like “Suite” or “Apt”, then don’t use the “#” symbol. But if you use only a number, then do add a “#” symbol before it (and place a space between the “#” and the number). Got it?

ZIP Code

For US mail delivery, the 5-digit ZIP code is now pretty much an essential component for all addresses. Using the 5-digit ZIP you provide, we will use the USPS database to create a 9-digit ZIP plus additional delivery detail.

Mixing Fields

Take care to keep info in the appropriate fields. When the Post Office scanner is expecting to find a Delivery Address (like “123 Main St”) but finds a Name instead, then delivery could be compromised.

Here are several examples of bad information in the address fields:

  • “University of Miami” in one of the address lines (should be in Organization Name field)
  • “Psychiatric Dept” in one of the address lines (should be in Department Name field)
  • “Attn: Bob Smith” in one of the address lines (should be in Attention Name line)

Merge Purge

Having duplicate records in your address list is wasteful. Remove duplicates prior to your mailing. Better yet, let your software flag the duplicate as you enter data into your system.

Validating an Address

The other half to ensuring a deliverable address is to validate it. Validating an address means checking it against a database of actual, deliverable addresses. Software that provides this service will flag problem addresses (ex. “123 Main St — does not exist”).

Campus post office addressing standards can be tricky to validate. At UNH, “GSS, Box 777″ results in a bad address; but “777 Granite Square Station” works fine. For Dartmouth College, “Hinman Box 3010″ is a problem, but “3010 Hinman” is not.

Also, the validation process can burp if using a street address that is not standard for USPS. For example, the USPS might not recognize “789 Rt 12A” but does recognize “789 NH Rt 12A”. Unfortunately, these ‘standards’ can vary from community to community; there is no single standard for street addressing.

Many addresses fail simply because the Secondary Designator is missing. Be careful not to overlook this part of your Address Line.

A further offshoot of address validation is using the National Change of Address (NCOA) database, managed by USPS, to update addresses for people who have recently moved. If the software detects that “Robert Smith” at a particular address has moved, the software will modify the data to reflect the new address. The USPS reports that their database contains 160 million records of address changes for a 4 year period.

Fixing Your List

The best way to prevent bad addressing is to check your address info as soon as you receive it. There is software available that will normalize and validate addresses during the data entry process.

Alternatively, you can use CASS (TM) system software developed by the USPS, that will normalize and validate an entire list, and provide a certification upon completion.

The USPS recognizes dozens of licensed service providers who are capable of running address lists through CASS and/or NCOA systems. A few of these include: SmartSoft,  SmartyStreets  and CDYNE.

Why go through this effort?

There are at least three big reasons you should be keeping your mailing list healthy:

First, your list is usually one of your organization’s most valuable assets. Doesn’t it make sense to keep it accurate and up-to-date?

Second, it reflects on you. If an address is full of inaccuracies  the recipient will likely wonder about your organization’s service quality.

Third, list quality makes a huge impact on deliverability and cost. Bad or outdated addresses wastes your investment in postage and the cost of preparing your mailing piece. Moreover, there’s an opportunity cost for your organization from each piece that is not delivered.

If you have questions about getting your mailing list into better shape, please call us at magnetbyMail. We’re firm believers that an address is a terrible thing to waste.


Another tidbit of useful information from magnetbyMail, your source for magnets, postcards and mailing.

February 17, 2013 · Posted in Profitability, Resources, Standards  

Sending Large Files

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How to Send Large Files for Free

Sending Large Files for FreeBeautiful art files can cause ugly problems when sent through email. The problem is their size.  Many email services restrict the sizes of file attachments, and so emails with big files can simply get bounced back.

But there are a few ways around this problem.  Here are some free large file transfer ideas you might find useful:

  • use an email service that allows big files to be sent. Google allows 25MB files and Yahoo allows 20MB files. Also, the recipient needs to be using a service that allows receipt of large emails.
  • if you have your own website, upload the large file to a folder on your website, then email the link of that file to the recipient. When the recipient has downloaded it, you can delete the online file.
  • you can sign up for a free online file sharing service. Look at SugarSync which offers 5GB of free online storage, as well as a handy routine for backing up your important files. Or consider DropBox which works like a file folder that automatically syncs on all your computers.  With these file sharing services you can upload your files and share them with one or more people.
  • use a free large file-transfer email service that takes care of everything — creates an email, attaches the files you need, sends the email.

The last of the above list is the most popular solution, since it takes care of the email and the attachment.  Here are several services that offer a free version:

YouSendIt   - transmit up to 100MB file, one file per email, Lite version for free.
WeTransfer  – a very easy process with no registration.  Email with one or more files attached, up to 2GB total, for free
DropSend    – email with one or more files attached, up to 2GB total, for free with the Lite version
TransferBigFiles  – with one or more files attached, up to 100MB total, for free.

Each of these services, although very similar on the surface, offer various ‘features’ that make each somewhat unique. Features include: size of the attachments, number of attachments, number of days that a shared file can be accessed, confirmation of email delivery, number of emails per month, and ads or promotional emails you might receive.

Because our work on postcard magnets commonly requires our clients to send large art and data files, we’re always on the lookout for good solutions for large file transfer.  If you have experience with a useful system not mentioned here, please let us know.

Another useful tidbit from your favorite source of magnet mailers, at

April 16, 2012 · Posted in Design, Resources  

Good photography

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If you’re going to invest money (, time and effort) in a postcard mailer campaign, you should make sure your layout and design looks its best.

If you need good photo images to help convey your message, you should look through .

At, you’ll find stock photography that is all shapes and sizes.  At least one of the images is bound to be perfect for your project.

Oh, and prices are very reasonable, too.  There are plenty of great images available for under US$10.

Images at Photos.comImportant note: make sure you obtain high-resolution photos.  For print quality, its good to have images that are at least 200 Dots Per Inch (DPI) resolution.  Images intended for the web can have much less (72 DPI), so don’t download an image intended for a website.

Also, based on my own experience buying an image at, I suggest you first, set yourself as a site user, then add the image(s) into your online ‘lightbox’, and then pay for them with your creditcard. Doing this in an other order can become frustrating.  At least that’s my experience.

I do recommend regardless of the abovementioned quirky checkout process.  Pricing seems to be better than .

Just our 2 cents, from

March 6, 2011 · Posted in Design, Resources  

ideas for layouts

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Need some quality, ready-made art templates for your magnet mailer design?

Check out for complete design layouts by world-class  artists. design templatesFiles generally include high-resolution images, and Adobe Illustrator or  Adobe InDesign elements, and suggestions for font files.

Its most everything you need for camera-ready artwork.  You may need to tweak the layout size to fit a postcard.  And of course, you’ll need to write your own copy…

The best way to use is to browse through the templates.  Even of you don’t buy anything, you’ll be inspired with plenty of design ideas.  And if you do buy something, you’ll be surprised at the low prices.

Postcard Sample Template from graphicriver.netFor example, check out this collection of card and brochure designs by jahimmyess.  There are plenty to choose from, you can change colors based on your palette, you receive templates for postcards, brochures, forms, and business cards.  And the download will cost less than US$10.

Now that’s impressive!

Our recommended resource for design templates:




March 6, 2011 · Posted in Design, Resources