Postal Updates

Popular forever stamps a headache for postal auditors

Nov 29, 2016, 10 AM
Forever stamps, which the United States Postal Service began selling in 2007, are proving to be quite a headache for postal auditors. The public, on the other hand, loves them.

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

Since the first United States forever stamps went on sale April 12, 2007, they have been a big hit with the public.

But for postal auditors, they’ve been something of a headache.

The reason: the U.S. Postal Service is not allowed to account for the revenues from stamp sales until the stamps are either used, lost, destroyed, or tucked into a stamp collection.

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Estimating how many unused stamps remain in public hands has been a headache for the USPS auditors years before those first Liberty Bell forever stamps were sold.

During fiscal 2016 (which ended Sept. 30), the USPS financial gurus at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington once again revised their stamp-keeping formula.

In a footnote to the Postal Service’s year-end filing with the Postal Regulatory Commission, they said it involved “complex mathematical and statistical methods of [estimating] postage stamp usage trends.”

All the work is necessary to determine what the auditors call “breakage.”

That is what the USPS defines as “the portion of sold Forever Stamps that we estimate will never be used by customers due to loss, damage or stamp collection.”

The result of the latest review was good news for the financially troubled Postal Service.

The auditors said the USPS cut the estimate of unused postage in the public’s hands by $1.1 billion.

And it added that $1.1 billion to the Postal Service’s revenues and cut its net losses for the year by that amount.

Dead Tree Edition, a blog that follows postal issues, got so excited by the footnote that it reported that the USPS had discovered a $3.5 billion cushion of forever stamps that amounts to a “subsidy” to the USPS.

David Partenheimer, the Postal Service’s top spokesman, told Linn’s that the cushion from the $48 billion worth of forever stamps sold since 2007 is not that that big. The correct figure “is actually $2.4 billion,” he said.

“The article correctly points out that some stamps, as in the case of stamp collecting, will never be used,” Partenheimer said.

Changing public attitudes about keeping unused stamps were factors in the overall change, he said.

When asked how much of a factor stamp collectors were in the calculations, Partenheimer said a breakdown of usage changes was not available.

The Dead Tree blogger who blamed lazy Americans for buying too many forever stamps urged his readers not to look for unused stamps around their houses.

“Maybe you should just take the patriotic route and not bother,” he wrote, “knowing that your carelessness is helping to support an iconic American institution.”