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What is Certified Mail™?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Certified Mail™ is a service offered by the United States Postal Service. When an item is sent using this service, the person who sends it will receive a proof of delivery confirmation. Many people like to send things via Certified Mail™ to ensure that they know when the items arrive, and it can be bundled with other services, such as a return receipt with the recipient's signature and restricted delivery, which authorizes the release of the mail to a particular person only.

One important thing about Certified Mail™ that people should be aware of is that it does not include insurance, and it can only be used for First Class or Priority Mail. Therefore, it is not appropriate for valuable items, although it can be extremely useful in a situation where someone wants a delivery record. For example, legal documents may be sent this way so that all parties are aware of when the documents are sent and received, and in some cases, signing a delivery receipt is treated as proof that someone has viewed the material.

The mailing and delivery record for Certified Mail™ is stored at the post office. Users can log onto the United States Postal Service website and use a unique identifying number to look up their packages if they want to determine when and if they were delivered. In the event that delivery fails, the item will be returned to the sender.

The Certified Mail™ service is more costly than just sending something via regular First Class or Priority Mail. For this reason, most people only use it on occasions when they really need it, although the service is sometimes used in vote caging, a tactic that involves the use of mass mailing to challenge the addresses of registered voters. It is recommended for any situation in which someone wants to confirm that something arrived, from college applications to the results of medical testing.

For people who want insurance, Registered Mail™ is a better option. Registered Mail™ includes insurance and delivery confirmation, and it is treated differently than Certified Mail™ by postal employees. For example, much tighter security precautions are used to protect Registered Mail™, and there is a streamlined process in place for making claims against lost or stolen items.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon197379 — On Jul 16, 2011

You can come into the 21st century using any of the competing certified mail services. Refer to the wikipedia certified mail entry for a list. The one I use doesn't have any of the problems discussed here (like they'll send a certified letter unmarked).

By anon163345 — On Mar 27, 2011

how long is the certified mail good for after signing it?

By anon107613 — On Aug 31, 2010

Certified mail, sent to a private home with a return receipt requested, is a nuisance for the recipient and should never be used for soliciting donations.

When the addressee is not home, the letter carrier leaves a note; the addressee then needs to go to the post office, wait, and wait some more, before getting the mail.

It is infuriating to see that it is just a donation request and we will certainly never again donate to an organization that wastes money (the postage was $3.13) and inconveniences its potential donors.

By anon101009 — On Aug 01, 2010

What happens if the Post Office loses a Certified Mail item?

By anon90082 — On Jun 14, 2010

what happens if you don't sign for certified mail? Since you don't know where it came from. ms n

By anon21057 — On Nov 09, 2008

I signed a certified letter that came to my mother's house addressed to my brother. My brother lives 200 miles away in no permanent address. We have not seen my brother for months. What responsibility do I have for getting this letter to my brother? I think from the return address on the letter that it's about a divorce proceeding concerning his wife.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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