How to return mail to sender the right way

February 8, 2024
Minh Mai

Not every piece of mail that arrives in your mailbox should be there. Whether it came to the wrong address or it’s just unwanted mail, there’s a right way to return it to the person or business who sent it.

In this complete guide to return to sender mail, we’ll cover everything you need to know about returning a mail item back to its sender. 

So, let’s jump into the common situations where you may need to return a piece of mail, how to get mail where it belongs, and what to do if it keeps coming back.

What does “Return to Sender” mean?

Marking a letter or package with the words “Return to Sender” is a way of letting the local post office know that the parcel needs to go back to its original sender. The most common issue is a person receiving mail intended for someone else (like a previous resident of their home or apartment). 

Marking mail as Return to Sender also lets the sender know about delivery issues or a change of address. The only thing you should write on the parcel itself are the words “Return to Sender” — but you can also attach a sticky note to the parcel further explaining the situation.

When should you return mail to the sender?

If you receive a misrouted mail item that doesn’t have your name on the shipping label, you should always mark it as Return to Sender and put it back in the mailbox as soon as possible. Failing to return mail that doesn’t belong to you is not only an inappropriate thing to do, it’s also a violation of federal law.

You should mark any mail you receive addressed to previous tenants of your home or deceased recipients as Return to Sender. You may also want to return duplicate mail items. 

You can simply throw away unwanted mail, such as junk mail, if it’s addressed to you. However, if you want to let the sender know that you don’t want to receive the mail items they are trying to send you, then you can send unwanted mail back as well.

How to return mail to the sender: common scenarios

There are a lot of different types of mail and several situations where you may need to return mail to its sender. In each of these scenarios, the process for returning mail is basically the same. 

You can usually mark most pieces of mail with “Return to Sender” to ensure it goes back to the original sender. However, there are some unique considerations you’ll want to keep in mind, depending on the situation, to avoid future issues with your mail.

Here is a guide to the common scenarios where you may need to return mail and the steps you should take for each one.

Wrong address

The United States Postal Service processes about 421.4 million pieces of mail every day. So the fact that the vast majority of USPS mail ends up where it’s supposed to be is actually quite impressive. However, there are still a lot of letters and packages that don’t make it to the right mailing address.

So you might receive a mail item that the mail carrier misdelivered to the wrong address. In this case, you should write “Wrong Address” or “Not at This Address” on the item and place it back in the mailbox, drop it in a collection box, or give it to your mail carrier. 

Mail you don’t want

If unwanted mail, such as junk mailers or unsolicited subscriptions, clutters your mailbox, you can simply discard it. However, if you want to return unwanted mail to let the sender know you don’t want to receive it, you can mark the mail as Return to Sender and place it back in your mailbox.

Keep in mind that some types of mail are not returnable. This includes legal summons or subpoenas, official government notices, and legal notifications from attorneys. While you might not want these items, attempting to return them to the sender doesn’t invalidate them.

Recipient moved away

When someone moves, it’s inevitable that not all their mail will make it to their new address. If you receive a piece of mail intended for someone who no longer lives at your address, you can mark it as “Moved” or “No Longer At This Address” and add it to your outgoing mail. 

If you know the intended recipient’s correct address, you can include this on a note as well. However, you shouldn’t try to complete a change of address form for them, as that is illegal.

Deceased recipient

If you receive a piece of mail addressed to someone who is no longer living, it’s important to let the sender know so they can update their records. You can do this by marking the parcel as “Deceased, Return to Sender” before placing it back in your mailbox or giving it to the delivery person.

Duplicate mail

Sometimes, a sender may accidentally mail you duplicates of a package or other piece of mail. In this scenario, the appropriate thing to do is to return the duplicate to the sender. Mark the package as Return to Sender and include a note explaining that it is a duplicate item.

What to do if the mail or package comes back to you

Returning a parcel to its sender is a simple enough process, but what if it makes its way back to you again? If you find yourself playing a game of hot potato with a parcel, here are the steps that you should take.

Double-check the labeling

The first thing you should do is double-check the parcel to make sure you correctly marked it for return. If the labeling is right, you can also check the sender’s return policies. They may have specific return policies or instructions that you need to follow. You can typically find this information on their website or on the package itself.

Contact the postal service

If you can’t find any obvious reason why the return failed, the next step you should take is to contact your local post office. Be sure to ask about any postal rules or restrictions that may have impacted the return. If your initial efforts don’t yield any answers, politely persist until they provide a resolution or alternative solution.

Verify the return address

Postal workers can’t return a parcel to its sender if the return address is incorrect. So, if a parcel you’ve tried to return comes back to you again, be sure to check the return address and, if possible, verify that it’s correct.

If you notice that there is an error with the return address printed on the parcel, you can attach a note that includes the sender’s correct return address.

Contact the sender directly

Sometimes, the best thing to do when you can’t return a piece of mail is to contact the sender directly, especially if it’s a business or a known correspondent. In some cases, contacting the sender directly can lead to a faster resolution than going through the postal service.

End your mail concerns and simplify returns with Stable

Returning mail that doesn’t belong to you can be a hassle sometimes. Thankfully, it’s a problem you’ll never have to worry about again with a virtual mailbox service like Stable.

With Stable, all of your mail comes to one of our professionally managed locations, where we sort and store it for you. From there, we can scan and upload it to the cloud for secure online viewing, forward it to any location in the world, or shred and recycle it. 

Best of all, Stable handles all returns on your behalf to ensure that any mail you don’t want returns to its sender.

End your mail issues and simplify returns with the best digital mailbox service on the market — sign up for Stable today!

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