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US Postage Cost Trends

It feels like every time you turn around, the United States Postal Service is raising its rates. But is that really the case, and is it significantly more expensive to mail a letter now? Let's take a look at the trends in United States postal costs.

The first stamps in the United States were issued in 1847. Postage rates had been standardized two years before, but postage stamps weren't the only acceptable form of payment until 1856. The cost of mailing a first class letter at that time was less than a nickel.

In fact, the cost of mailing a first class letter remained in the range of two to three cents from the inception of the post office up until the 1950s . 1958 to be specific, when the cost of postage went up from three cents to four.

Since the 1950s, there have been a number of increases. In the 1960s, postal stamps went up two cents, to 6 cents apiece for a first class letter. The 1970s saw the first big increase, when prices went from 6 cents for mailing a first class letter to 15 cents . more than doubling the cost of mailing a letter.

The largest period of increase to date occurred in the 1980s. During the 1980s, first class stamps went from 15 cents to 25 cents, which represented a 10 cent increase. In the 1990s, the rate of increase dropped back to 8 cents, with first class stamps going from 25 cents to 33 cents. In the 2000s, seen an 11 cent increase . another double digit jump . with the price of first class stamps rising from 33 cents to 44 cents.

When you look at the trend, you can see that first class stamps have gone up an average of 9 cents during each of the past four decades, or about one cent per year.

The cost of an additional ounce of first class postage has also shown an interesting trend. In 1975, the cost of an additional ounce went from 9 cents to 11 cents. The cost of that additional ounce went up with the cost of first class stamps, staying from one to five cent less than the cost of the first ounce until 1991. That year, the cost of the first ounce was 29 cents and each additional ounce was 23 cents. Despite the increasing cost of the first ounce, the cost of each additional ounce hovered between 21 and 24 cents from 1991 through 2006, when it reached its high point to date of 24 cents. In 2007, the cost of additional ounces went back down to 17 cents, a price last seen in 1985. Surprisingly, additional ounces still cost 17 cents today.

Finally, the cost of mailing a post card was 1 cent in 1898. The price since then has risen steadily in one or two cent increments to reach its present level of 28 cents, with one exception. In 1975, the cost of mailing a post card went from 8 cents to 7 cents, rising again to 9 cents by the end of the year and hitting 10 cents in 1978.

One interesting trend in postage costs is the new Forever stamp which was introduced in 2007. This stamp sells for the price of one ounce of first class postage and can be used for the first ounce of first class postage at any point in the future, regardless of rate increases.