How much is a stamp? You’re about to find out that and more…

Postage stamp costs can be confusing. For one thing, the price of a stamp changes regularly; for another, stamps are used in a huge range of available mailing methods, and they’re tied to both the weight and size of the item being shipped. But since standing in line at the post office can be extremely time-consuming, sometimes it seems easier to slap too much postage on a piece of mail rather than go to the post office to have it weighed.

One of the nice things about stamps, however, is that you can buy them in bulk so that you’re prepared the next time a bill, letter, or invitation needs to go out. Here is a handy guide to navigating the price of stamps — including how you can use Forever stamps to get around the price changes.

Included In This Article:

  • What is a first-class stamp?

  • What is a forever stamp?

  • International stamps

  • Prices for Priority Mail

  • Prices for Priority Express Mail

  • And More…

What Is a First Class Stamp and How Much Is a First Class Stamp?

First-Class is the most common and affordable way to send items through the United States Postal Service. Letters, postcards, large envelopes, and small packages weighing up to 15.99 ounces can be shipped via First-Class Mail.

How much is a first class stamp? More details are provided below but a First Class stamp costs 49 cents.

How many stamps are needed for a large envelope? One stamp accounts for one ounce, but each additional ounce only costs 21 cents.

There are no guaranteed delivery times for First-Class Mail, because the ability to be flexible about timing is what allows the USPS to offer the most affordable rates for this class of mail. However, letters or packages usually take between two and four days to arrive at their final destination anywhere within the United States.

A First-Class stamp is essentially the amount of postage that it takes to send one standard envelope via First-Class Mail. The price of a First-Class stamp can vary over time, but it does so in tandem with the cost of mailing a First-Class envelope — so as long as the price hasn’t changed since you bought the stamp (or if you’re using Forever stamps, regardless of whether the price has changed), one First-Class stamp will always be the right amount to send that birthday card, thank-you note, or important bill.

What Is a Forever Stamp? How Much Is a Forever Stamp?

The concept behind a “Forever stamp” is that you will purchase the stamps at the current rate for a standard First-Class stamp, and then you’ll be able to use them at any time in the future, regardless of whether the price of stamps goes up or down. As of January 2017, the First-Class rate increased from $0.47 to $0.49, with each additional ounce costing $0.21.

Forever stamps are First-Class stamps that come in the following mail categories:

  • Basic First-Class stamps are for standard business-sized or other rectangular envelopes weighing no more than one ounce; as of this writing (February 2017), the price is $0.49.
  • Additional ounce stamps work in conjunction with First-Class stamps for mail over one ounce; the current cost is $0.21.
  • Two-ounce stamps, not surprisingly, cover rectangular mail pieces up to two ounces for $0.70.
  • Three-ounce stamps will mail standard-sized rectangular envelopes with contents up to three ounces for $0.91.
  • Postcard stamps for standard-sized postcards are $0.34 each; postcards larger than 6” x 4 ¼” need a $0.49 First-Class stamp.
  • Non-machinable surcharge stamps are for square envelopes of no more than one ounce, or those of any shape (also no more than one ounce) with contents that prevent the envelope from laying flat. Envelopes like these need to be hand-cancelled by the post office; the current price is $0.70.
  • Almost all wedding invitations fall into the category of non-machinable, and many also weigh more than one ounce due to the enclosures. Expect wedding invitations to need $0.91 in postage, a denomination which is available under the Forever category of three-ounce stamps (but in this case, the stamps will only cover mail up to two ounces, due to the non-machinable surcharge).
  • Global Forever stamps are for international mail, and are sold at the current international one-ounce rate of $1.15.

Regarding Forever stamps, Elizabeth Najduch, a USPS spokeswoman in Detroit, says, “Once it’s purchased, it never expires or declines in value, but at the time of purchase, it’s sold at the first-class one-ounce rate. You can use it forever.”

First introduced to consumers in April 2007, Forever stamps caught on quickly. Within four years, virtually all First-Class one-ounce stamps were sold in the Forever format.

International Stamps

Standard one-ounce letters may be mailed to almost any international destination for $1.15. For envelopes with international destinations that weigh more than one ounce, you can use the International Postage Calculator to determine the shipping cost, but you’ll need the envelope’s weight and dimensions to plug into the site. Any U.S. stamps that come up to the correct postage price can be used — they need not be marked specifically as international stamps. You may, if you wish, add an Air Mail sticker or simply write “Air Mail” on the envelope, but all international mail is Air Mail now; no boats are used for this purpose anymore.

Prices for Priority Mail

Priority Mail offers a flat rate for one to three day shipping through the U.S. Postal Service. There is a maximum weight of 70 lbs. for an individual package. For this service, you’ll need to use pre-printed Priority Mail Flat Rate envelopes or boxes, available for free at your local post office. These pre-printed envelopes and boxes can also be mailed to you for no charge. Available sizes for Priority Mail Flat Rate shipping include three types of envelopes and six different boxes.

Flat rate pricing is very convenient because there’s no need to weigh the mail in order to calculate shipping fees. Pricing relies on the box or envelope chosen, rather than the weight or distance the mail must travel to its intended recipient.

The only type of Priority Mail that has its own stamp is the Flat Rate Envelope.

Flat Rate Envelope

  • Size: 12 1⁄2″ x 9 1⁄2″
  • Rate: $6.65

Note that some older Priority Mail stamps with a face value of $6.45 are still available for purchase, but $0.20 in additional postage is required to mail the envelope.

Flat rates for other sizes of Priority Mail are as follows. Keep in mind that weight does not matter (up to 70 lbs.), but you will need to use multiple stamps to get to the right postage price.

Legal Flat Rate Envelope    

  • Size: 9 1⁄2″ x 15″
  • Rate: $6.95

Padded Flat Rate Envelope

  • Size: 12 1⁄2″ x 9 1⁄2″
  • Rate: $7.20

Small Flat Rate Box

  • Size: 8 11⁄16″ x 5 7⁄16″ x 1 3⁄4″
  • Rate: $7.15

Medium Flat Rate Box (Top Loading)

  • Size: 11 1⁄4″ x 8 3⁄4″ x 6″
  • Rate: $13.60

Medium Flat Rate Box (Side Loading)  

  • Size: 14″ x 12″ x 3 1⁄2″
  • Rate: $13.60

Large Flat Rate Box

  • Size: 12 1⁄4″ x 12 1⁄4″ x 6″
  • Rate: $18.85

APO/FPO Large Box           

  • Size: 12 1⁄4″ x 12 1⁄4″ x 6″
  • Rate: $17.35

Prices for Priority Mail Express

Priority Mail Express Flat Rate offers overnight shipping. As with regular Priority Mail, the maximum weight for an individual piece of mail is 70 lbs. Priority Mail Express Flat Rate mail can be delivered to almost any U.S. address, including military locations and PO Boxes.

Though more expensive than standard Priority Mail, Priority Mail Express includes some special services at no extra cost, such as tracking, package pickup, signature proof of delivery, and insurance coverage up to $100. Another free service, if desired, is Hold For Pickup, which means that the mail will be held at the post office for the recipient to pick up. This can be a useful option if the recipient can’t be sure they’ll be available to sign for their mail immediately, or if the contents are too valuable to leave outside the door.

As with regular Priority Mail, the Flat Rate Envelope is the only Priority Mail Express size that offers its own stamp.

Flat Rate Envelope

  • Size: 12 ½″ × 9 ½″
  • Rate: $23.75

Note that some older Priority Mail Express stamps with a face value of $22.95 are still available for purchase, but an additional $0.80 of postage is required to mail the envelope.

Legal Flat Rate Envelope

  • Size: 15″ × 9 ½″
  • Rate: $23.95

Padded Flat Rate Envelope

  • Size: 12 ½″ × 9 ½″
  • Rate: $24.95

Designs on Stamps: Do Special Styles of Stamps Cost More?

The price of a stamp is based on the type of mail it will ship, not the design on the stamp itself. There is a huge range of available styles and designs, so you’re welcome to choose whichever one strikes your fancy — all stamps of the same type cost the same amount. From the traditional flag emblem stamps, to stamps celebrating civil rights activists, artists, holidays, and the natural world, there is sure to be a style that appeals to your tastes.

When purchasing directly from the post office, all stamps will cost the same regardless of the artwork printed on them. However, other retailers may have different policies. Retailers like Amazon may add a surcharge to your purchase for certain types of stamps; another retailer, Stamps.com, charges a monthly fee of $15.99 to allow customers to calculate, buy, and print shipping labels from home, but also offers discounts on the face value of stamps.

Available US Postage Stamp Values

The smallest denomination available as a stamp is $0.01, so if you know the weight and dimensions of your mail piece, you can get to exactly the right amount using stamps. There is a wide range of denominations available, including high-value stamps worth $1, $2, $5, and $10, as well as flat rate stamps for Priority or Priority Express envelopes.

While you can use the standard First-Class stamps to cover the entire cost of shipping, you’ll likely end up overpaying, unless your shipping cost happens to be a multiple of $0.49. You can pay exactly as much as you need to, and no more, by using different denominations of stamps (or paying directly for a shipping label at the post office). Knowing at least the general category of mail you’ll be sending — letter, postcard, large envelope, or parcel — is key to determining the kind of stamps you need. Unless you are using one of the postal service’s flat rate options, knowing the weight and dimensions of the mail is the only way to determine the exact amount of postage you’ll need.

Available Multiples for Stamps

Stamps come in singles, sheets, books, blocks, and rolls. The number of stamps contained in each of these formats varies based on the stamps in question, because the physical sizes of stamps sometimes vary by design or denomination.

In general, however:

  • One block = Four stamps (this format in particular may vary based on the size and design of the stamp)
  • One sheet = 10 stamps
  • One book = 20 stamps
  • One roll = 100, 3,000, or 10,000 stamps

Not all types and denominations of stamps are available in all quantity options (although all stamps are generally available as singles). While many grocery stores, convenience stores, and other retailers sell stamps, you’ll often have to go to the post office to get singles. Only the higher value stamps, such as those for Priority Mail envelopes, are sold in singles online.

Distance Covered by US Stamps

Within the United States, distance doesn’t matter when it comes to the cost of postage. It costs the same to mail items anywhere in the US, including Alaska and Hawaii.

It’s also worth noting that the price for shipping any kind of mail does not change whether you use stamps or print out a shipping label for the exact amount. While it takes a bit more effort to apply the exact amount in stamps, it is possible. Any combination of stamp denominations that gets you to the correct amount is appropriate — you just lose any extra amount that you’re applying in stamps that isn’t required for postage. If you’re not printing a shipping label, the challenge may be to get as close as possible to the correct postage amount with the variety of stamps you have available.

What Happens to Mail Without Proper Postage?

If you don’t affix enough postage, the mail will either be returned to you, or held at the recipient’s post office marked as “postage due.” More often than not, the mail will be automatically returned to the sender. If it does make it through to the recipient’s post office, the recipient will need to pay the postage due at the post office in order to receive the mail. If they don’t, the mail will be returned to the sender.

Will Stamp Prices Continue to Rise?

Stamp prices will likely continue to rise as the USPS’s cost of doing business — including expenses such as gas for mail trucks and wages for employees — rises with inflation. But as costs fall (though that scenario is rare), so will stamp prices fall.

In January 2014, the cost of First-Class postage rose from $0.47 to $0.49. Then in April of 2016, the Postal Regulatory Commission forced the USPS to drop its prices for the first time in 97 years. The Postmaster General, Megan Brennan, disagreed with the move, insisting that “given our precarious financial condition and ongoing business needs, the price reduction required by the PRC exacerbates our losses.”

It appears that Ms. Brennan was correct, as the price of a First-Class stamp again rose to $0.49 effective January 22, 2017.

Price of Stamps: Conclusion

The current price of a Forever stamp is $0.49. A Forever stamp will cover the cost of sending a standard envelope by First-Class Mail to any destination in the United States, even if the price of First-Class stamps changes in the future.

The US Post Office offers a huge array of styles for stamps in all denominations. Results for available stamps on the USPS website can be filtered by type, including sheets, rolls, books, commemorative, or denomination, and also by themes including history, holiday, love, nature, patriotic, and people. Take a look and have fun shopping if you want to choose the styles that appeal to you most. If all that matters is that the mail gets where it needs to go, stop by the post office and stock up on a roll or two of Forever stamps, or even easier, pick up a book of First-Class Forever stamps at the grocery store check-out.