How long does mail forwarding last for a USPS Change of Address?

April 6, 2023
Collin Pham

In 2022, the U.S. Postal Service processed 33.2 million address changes. People relocating to new homes, businesses changing locations — there’s a lot of moving happening. While the USPS provides valuable services to help you change your address (and forward mail to your new address temporarily), figuring out the particulars of these services can be challenging. 

How much does a change of address cost? How long can you have mail forwarded, and what types of mail can the USPS forward? Are there other mail forwarding services beyond those you can get via a change of address?

We’ll answer all of these questions below — and show you an alternative to USPS mail forwarding that can make your business operations a lot easier.

What is the USPS Change of Address? 

Example of a forwarded piece of mail (Source)

A USPS Change of Address is a request you submit when you or your business moves to a new location. When you submit a COA request, the USPS sets up automatic mail forwarding to reroute mail from your old address to your new address. 

This is a great service if you’re getting paper bills, notices, packages, and other pieces of important mail from senders who may not be aware of your new address. Even among senders who have been notified of your new address, some — like banks, the IRS, or state departments — may take some time to update your address.  

How does mail forwarding work?

It’s easy to get set up with USPS mail forwarding. When you file a Change of Address, the USPS automatically sets up temporary mail forwarding so that you can receive mail from senders who may not have your new address yet. 

Once this service is set up, the USPS will catch any First Class, Priority, or Periodical mail sent to your old address as it enters their system. Postal workers add a yellow forwarding sticker with your new address, and the mail automatically reroutes to your new address. 

Note that this only works with USPS mail. An official USPS Change of Address won’t affect mail or packages sent via UPS, Fedex, DHL, or other shippers.

What happens if I don’t notify USPS of my address change?

In short, your mail will continue going to your old address. What happens then depends on what the new mailbox owner (if there is one) does with the mail. They may simply throw out mail that isn’t marked for them, or they may mark it as a return to sender.

If no one empties the mailbox, mail will build up. Eventually, the local mail carrier will collect the accumulated mail and return it to the local post office. From there, the post office will hold the mail for up to 10 days, then either return it to senders or throw it away.

What is the cost of mail forwarding?

Currently, the USPS charges $1.10 to file a Change of Address online, which comes with 12 months of standard mail forwarding. If you’d like mail forwarding for longer than that, the following fees apply for Extended Mail Forwarding:

  • $19.95 for an additional six months
  • $29.95 for an additional 12 months
  • $39.95 for an additional 18 months

Types of mail forwarding options from USPS

When you submit a Change of Address request with the post office, there are four different types of mail forwarding options that you can choose from, including:

USPS Temporary Change of Address

A temporary Change of Address order will provide piece-by-piece forwarding for all First Class Mail and Periodicals (magazines, newspapers, and so on) that you receive, but it generally won’t forward USPS Marketing Mail or Package Services Mail. 

When you set up this type of COA, it’s set for a specified time frame that you choose. It’s a common option for people traveling for an extended period or time or for those temporarily living in a new location.

USPS Permanent Change of Address

Similar to a temporary COA, a permanent Change of Address order provides piece-by-piece forwarding of all First Class Mail and Periodicals — but again, not USPS Marketing Mail or Package Services Mail. 

The main difference between a temporary and permanent COA is that a permanent COA lets the USPS know that your mailing address of record should be changed completely rather than reverting at the end of a specified timeframe.

Because of this, the USPS automatically forwards First Class Mail for 12 months and periodicals for 60 days. This gives you time to change your address with all the services and providers that you or your business works with.

This permanent Change of Address service is the obvious option for anyone who has permanently changed their residential address or any business that has permanently changed its address.

USPS Premium Forwarding Service Residential (PFS-Residential)

Setting up Premium Forwarding Service Residential gives you single weekly shipments of all the mail that you receive at an address rather than piece-by-piece mail forwarding. This mail is sent to your specified address via Priority Mail, and unlike a permanent COA or a temporary COA, this premium forwarding service comes with a fee. You can find more information on the USPS website here

This service is a great option for those who want to ensure they receive important mail promptly. 

USPS Premium Forwarding Service Commercial (PFS-Commercial)

Similar to PFS Residential, setting up Premium Forwarding Service Commercial will deliver bundled shipments of all the mail that you receive at a previous business address instead of piece-by-piece forwarding. This mail will go to your new business address via Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express. Unlike PFS Residential, you can customize the delivery frequency for PFS-Commercial to weekly or monthly shipments. The premium forwarding service for commercial use usually comes with higher fees as well. Learn more here

This service is great for any business that has changed its address and doesn’t want to miss any important business documents or notifications.

How long does USPS forward mail for?

Mail forwarding duration depends on whether you’ve submitted a temporary Change of Address, a permanent COA, a Premium Forwarding Service Residential, or a Premium Forwarding Service Commercial. We’ll show you the differences below.

Temporary Change of Address

Mail forwarding for a temporary COA can last between 15 days and six months. Since you can choose when the forwarding service will start and end, mail forwarding for a temporary COA will last until your specified end date. We recommend looking at your COA confirmation email or your Customer notification letter (CNL) if you’re unsure what this date may be. 

Permanent Change of Address

Mail forwarding for a permanent COA will last for 12 months — with the caveat that periodicals will only be forwarded for 60 days. This means that the expiration date for your permanent COA order will be 12 months from the start date that you specified. Again, check your COA confirmation email or Customer notification letter (CNL) if you’re unsure what this date may be. 

Premium Forwarding Service for Residential

Mail forwarding for PFS Residential can last between two weeks and 12 months. Since you can choose when this forwarding service starts and ends, USPS will send a single weekly forward for your mail until your submitted expiration date. PFS Residential mail forwarding can be managed online, so check your PFS Residential Online account if you’re unsure what your expiration date may be. 

Premium Forwarding Service for Commercial

Mail forwarding via PFS Commercial can be renewed indefinitely to suit your business’s needs — though you’ll need to sign up for a minimum of two weeks. Since you can choose when this forwarding service starts and ends, USPS will send periodic forwards for your mail until your specified expiration date. Check your PFS Commercial Online account to manage your expiration date.

Can you extend mail forwarding past a year?

The answer depends on the type of mail forwarding you set up. For example, if you set up mail forwarding through a COA, then you can extend it up to 30 months if needed. But a year is the maximum if you’ve signed up for PFS Residential or Commercial. (We’ll explain more about this below.)

One good thing about setting up mail forwarding through the United States Postal Service is that they will typically notify you when your mail forwarding is about to expire. You’ll get a postcard sent to your new or forwarding address. This postcard will also let you know if you have the option to extend. Even though extensions come with fees, they can be helpful if you know your address hasn’t been updated among all senders.

Information on USPS extended mail forwarding

If you’ve requested a permanent COA, USPS will allow you to request an extension for a fee — and you can get a maximum of 30 months, including the initial 12 months that you get with the COA, plus a maximum of 18 months in extensions. (See "What is the cost of mail forwarding?" section above for the fee breakdown.)

You cannot extend forwarding if you’ve requested a temporary COA. Instead, you’ll need to submit either another temporary COA request to continue forwarding, or a permanent COA request if you’d like access to longer timeframes.

How many times can you extend mail forwarding?

If you’re forwarding mail through a permanent Change of Address, you can request forwarding for up to 30 months maximum. So, for example, if the initial 12 months of your COA runs out, you can sign up for extended mail forwarding for six months. Then you can extend it two more times (six months each), or one more time for 12 months to reach a total of 30 months.

With a temporary COA, you can’t extend forwarding. If you signed up for PFS Residential or PFS Commercial, the maximum time you can forward mail is one year.

How a virtual mailbox eliminates the hassle of mail forwarding

Mail forwarding through the U.S. Postal Service is practical and has its applications — but it’s also quite limited, and changing your mail forwarding plan can be difficult. And that’s why virtual mailbox services are such a valuable resource for business owners. A virtual mailbox makes mail forwarding much easier. You won’t have to worry about filing multiple Change of Address forms or extending mail forwarding periods. 

Better yet, if you’re traveling or need to receive mail at multiple addresses, you can always have your virtual mailbox provider update your forwarding address as needed.

So how do these services work? Virtual mailboxes like Stable give you access to a real street address to receive mail and packages. They’ll scan envelopes for you, and you can review them online 24/7. From there, you choose what to do with each piece of mail: Open it to have the contents scanned, store it, recycle it, or forward it to an address of your choosing. Unlike forwarding through USPS, you can also receive and forward packages from other shippers, like Fedex, DHL, or UPS.

Some providers take service offerings a step further for even greater benefit to your business. In addition to free, personalized change-of-address guidance, Stable customers enjoy time-saving automations (including check depositing), free unlimited mail reception and digitization scans, bulk forwarding with discounted shipping rates, registered agent services in all 50 states, and much more.

All in all, virtual mailboxes can be a lot more convenient than USPS mail forwarding services — plus, you’ll enjoy a lot more flexibility and the benefits of added services.

Stable: The best alternative to USPS mail forwarding

USPS mail forwarding is a great service to use if you know that mail is being sent to an old home or business address — but it’s important to note that even with Premium Forwarding Services or a “permanent” change of address, the mail forwarding you’ll get is temporary (and it may exclude important items not shipped via First-Class Package Service or Priority Mail). 

Why not eliminate the stress of dealing with mail forwarding requests when relocating? Instead of filing a COA yourself, let Stable do the tedious work for you. Stable gives your business access to permanent virtual addresses in five prestigious locations, and provides guided COA assistance so you never have to worry about mail or changing addresses again. We’ll digitize all mail you receive, and you can scan, forward, shred, and even deposit checks from anywhere in the world.

Ready to get started? You can get a virtual business address and mailbox in less than three minutes. Click here to sign up.

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