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How to Get a P.O. Box

It can be beneficial to receive your mail at the post office, so here's how to get set up.

[Updated: Feb 04, 2021 ] Apr 26, 2020 by Matt Frankel, CFP
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There are several reasons you might want to get a P.O. box. Maybe you own several properties and want one permanent address for mail delivery. Maybe you're concerned with people stealing mail out of your mailbox. Or, maybe you simply don't want to give out your personal address to everyone who needs to send you something.

With that in mind, here's what you should know before you get a P.O. box, the advantages and drawbacks of using a P.O. box to receive your mail, and how to get a P.O. box of your own.

What is a P.O. box?

A post office box, more commonly referred to as a P.O. box, is a mailbox that is physically located at a U.S. post office. Individuals and businesses can rent P.O. boxes directly from the United States Postal Service (USPS) and can use them to receive mail or packages. P.O. boxes are available for rent at more than 31,000 post offices throughout the United States.

We'll get into the specific reasons in the next section, but it can be desirable to have mail delivered to a post office box address instead of to the physical address of your home or business.

Reasons you might need a P.O. box

More than 21 million P.O. boxes are rented out to individuals and businesses, so it's fair to say that many people find value in having a mailbox located in a postal facility. Just to name a few reasons why you might want to get a P.O. box of your own:

  • You don't live in just one place: If you split your time between two or more homes, a P.O. box can be right for you. Having a permanent mailing address can come in handy.
  • You aren't home much: P.O. boxes are great for people who travel often and don't check their mail for days at a time. Instead of asking a neighbor to take in your mail, it can be easier to simply stop by the post office when you have a chance to pick it up.
  • You want privacy: If you don't want everyone who sends you bills, newsletters, magazines, etc., to have your physical street address, a P.O. box can keep your address private.
  • You need a place for business mail: If you run a home-based business, a P.O. box can give you a separate place to get your business mail. In fact, this is the primary reason I have a P.O. box -- I operate a real estate partnership but don't have a physical office and want to keep business mail delivery separate from my personal mail.
  • You live in a remote area: Because your P.O. box is physically located at a post office, you'll get your mail delivery faster than if you waited for it to be dropped off at your home or business.
  • Security is a concern: Unfortunately, mail theft is a real concern these days. If you aren't home during the day when your mail is delivered, renting a P.O. box can be an excellent way to make sure it's safe until you can pick it up.

Potential drawbacks of using a P.O. box

Using a P.O. box isn't ideal for everyone, so be sure to consider these potential drawbacks first:

  • Off-site location: Perhaps the most obvious drawback to using a P.O. box is that you'll have to drive somewhere to get your mail, as opposed to simply walking outside and checking your mailbox. And you'll need to check your P.O. box regularly -- allowing your P.O. box to overflow is frowned upon by the USPS. Before you decide to rent a P.O. box, be sure you've considered the inconvenience factor of having to regularly pick up your mail.
  • Business concerns: Many people feel that using a P.O. box as a business address is unprofessional. I use one for mine, so I clearly disagree with this viewpoint. However, if you use a P.O. box for business, your customers may have difficulty finding your physical location, if that's an issue, and there are some things you will not be able to use your P.O. box for, as you'll see in the next point.
  • Package concerns: Do you receive packages often? If your packages are sent through USPS, your P.O. box will work just fine. Even if your packages don't fit in your P.O. box, the post office will typically accept them on your behalf. On the other hand, you cannot receive packages from other carriers like FedEx (NYSE: FDX) and UPS (NYSE: UPS) in your postal service P.O. box.

How to get a P.O. box

The process of getting a P.O. box of your own is fairly quick and painless. Here are the basic steps:

Step 1: Decide where you want your P.O. box

The first thing you'll need to do is decide where you want your new P.O. box to be physically located. On the USPS website's P.O. box page, use the search tool to find U.S. post office locations near you or your business. We'll discuss the sizes in the next section, but be aware that not all box sizes are available at all U.S. post offices, so you may want to have a backup location in mind in case the box size you want isn't available.

Step 2: What size do you need?

The next step is to choose the size of your P.O. box. There are five sizes offered by the USPS, and while not all sizes are offered at every location, here's a quick guide using information from the postal service (Note: Most P.O. boxes have a depth of 14.75"):

Size Measurements What It Can Hold
Size 1: XS 3" x 5.5" 10 to 15 letters or two rolled magazines
Size 2: S 5" x 5.5" 10 to 15 letters or five rolled magazines
Size 3: M 5.5" x 11" Larger envelopes and magazines stacked flat
Size 4: L 11" x 11" Small packages (it's about the size of two shoeboxes)
Size 5: XL 12" x 22.5" Ideal for individuals and businesses who regularly get multiple packages

Step 3: Decide how you'll pay for your P.O. box

If you have an existing USPS account, you can use it to reserve and pay for your P.O. box. If not, you can create a new account on quickly and easily and use it to reserve and pay for your P.O. box.

As far as payments go, you can choose to pay as you go or you can set up recurring payments that will auto-renew your P.O. box. You can pay for your P.O. box online with a credit card (either one-time payments or auto-renewal), or you can pay at a self-service kiosk at a post office that has one, in person at the post office where your box is located, or with a check or money order by mail.

Step 4: Start receiving mail at your P.O. box

Once you've paid for your P.O. box, you'll pick up the key from the post office where it's located, fill out a short rental agreement form, and receive your box number. Then, you're free to begin using your P.O. box to receive mail. If you want your existing mail from your home or business address forwarded to your P.O. box, you'll need to fill out a change of address form, which you can either do in person or online.

The Millionacres bottom line

A P.O. box can be a valuable tool for individuals and businesses alike, but be sure to consider the benefits and drawbacks before you rent one. If you decide it's a good idea, the process of obtaining your own P.O. box is a quick and easy one that can mostly be completed online.

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Matthew Frankel, CFP owns shares of FedEx. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends FedEx. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.