Dealing with Return Mail

Level: basic
Two direct mail cards overlapping each other with The Foursome and a red, blue and white design.

Picture this: You’ve worked with Smartpress to create a direct mail campaign. You’ve designed custom mailers for online printing and had them sent out to target audiences and your distribution lists. A few days pass and suddenly you start receiving return mail of your own mailer!

So what happened? If you’re wondering why you’re getting returned mailers, you’re not alone. On average, about 10% of every mailer is returned. Check out the different possibilities below and learn how to reduce the chance of getting more return mail than you expect.

Return Mail Labels

First, it’s important to point out that only mail with a return address can be sent back to you. If mail doesn’t have a return address, the post office will simply toss it and you may never even know it.

The second most important detail is the yellow label that gets placed on the mail piece:

A yellow return mailing label with Return to sender, Not deliverable as addressed and Unable to forward.

In this example, the label lists Return to Sender, Not Deliverable as Addressed and Unable to Forward on three lines. And in mailing terms, each one of those lines has a specific meaning.

Return to Sender

On any yellow label like the one above, the first line lets you know this piece isn’t intended for you and the possible outcome.

In this example, Return to Sender means send the piece to the return address on it, if available. Another example is Return to Postmaster. The postmaster will then decide if it’s possible to find the owner, to return the piece to a mailing agent or dispose of it.

Not Deliverable as Addressed

The second line on the label will provide the main reason your mail has been returned. There are several possible messages that can appear here, but the post office will list the most relevant.

Some common messages are:

Not Deliverable as Addressed

  • This means the delivery address is incorrect.
  • It may not have been verified via Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) certification or there could be a typo.
  • Whatever the reason, the post office cannot find the address within their database and has sent it back.

No Mail Receptacle

  • The mail carrier is unable to reach a designated place to put the mail.
  • This could be from a damaged or missing mailbox, an overgrown bush is blocking the mailbox, etc.


  • The carrier has come to the conclusion that no one is occupying the residence of the mail receptacle.
  • They may conclude this if the residence is completely abandoned or mail has been piling up.
  • This could also occur if a new resident has recently moved in but the property is still marked as vacant. In this case, it’s up to the resident to inform the post office of the change.


  • For whatever reason, the carrier could not get to the receptacle.
  • This may occur if the porch is being renovated, an aggressive dog isn’t letting the carrier through, etc.
  • Usually multiple attempts will be made before the post office sends the piece back.

Insufficient Address

  • The address is simply missing information and doesn’t meet mailing requirements.
A piece of school direct mail custom printed with a yellow, orange and teal design.

Unable to Forward

The third line on the label will usually read Unable to Forward. This means that whoever lives at the residence (or used to live there) did not fill out a National Change of Address (NCOA) form with the USPS.

Generally, the USPS will look for this, and if the resident has updated their address, a label with the new address will be applied and the piece will be mailed at no extra expense.

It’s important to note that if the label lists Or Current Resident, then the carrier will deliver the piece to that designated address, regardless of the occupant.

How to Reduce Return Mail

As an online printer that puts the customer first, we do our best to ensure as little mail is returned to the sender as possible. At Smartpress, we take several steps to eliminate any possible issues that may arise:

  1. After running a list through CASS, we remove any record with a negative Delivery Point Verification (DVP). You’ll also be given a copy of each record that was removed and a brief explanation why.
  2. With your permission, we also check NCOA ourselves. By doing this, addresses will already be ready to forward.
  3. We’ll then see if the post office has any records marked as Vacant ahead of time. We’ll remove these records and include them with the inaccurate records list.
  4. Depending on your needs, we’ll recommend adding Or Current Resident to addresses.

Tip: Since the USPS doesn’t update their system daily, some removed records may actually be deliverable. You may choose to mail pieces to those addresses, but there are risks when sending to records that have been marked as unusable.

Risks may include the piece still not being sent, the post office simply tossing it (depending on the class) and extra charges for going beyond send limits.

If you have questions about return mail, maximizing delivery rates or any of our online printing services, please contact customer service.