Residents entitled to free Post Office boxes

Residents living in more rural towns may find that the U.S. Postal Service does not deliver mail to their homes.  Instead, those residents must obtain a Post Office Box in order to receive mail. Unfortunately, I have heard about people in this situation, in nearby communities and beyond, being charged a yearly fee for the post office box. If the U.S.P.S. refuses to deliver mail to your home, it must provide a no-fee PO box.

Typically, post offices in rural areas do not provide home delivery to residences within a quarter-mile radius of the post office, unless a residence happens to be on a rural carrier route.* In order to get your PO box, you must go to the local post office and fill out Form 1093.  It does not seem that those eligible for free boxes are able to submit this form online, as paid box customers are.  Form 1093 itself makes no mention of free boxes, so people typically are unaware they may be entitled to a free box.

Form 1093 does refer to a “Group E” box.  This is the Postal Service’s cryptic way of referring to the free post office box.  The Domestic Mailing Manual, a publication of the Postal Service, describes Group E boxes.  The Manual’s provisions are also incorporated into federal regulations, per the  Code of Federal Regulations, Title 39, Section 111.1. 

The relevant part of the Domestic Mailing Manual provides:

“4.6.2 Free Box Service (Group E)

Customers may qualify for free (Group E) Post Office box service if their physical address or business location meets all of the following criteria:

a. The physical address or business location is within the geographic delivery ZIP Code boundaries administered by a Post Office.

b. The physical address or business location constitutes a potential carrier delivery point of service.

c. The USPS chooses not to provide carrier delivery to the physical address or business location.

d. The customer does not receive carrier delivery via an out-of-bounds delivery receptacle.

4.6.3 Additional Standards for Free Box Service

Only one free (Group E) Post Office box may be obtained for each potential carrier delivery point of service. Group E customers are assigned the smallest available box that will reasonably accommodate their daily mail volume. Eligibility for Group E boxes does not extend to individual tenants, contractors, employees, or other individuals receiving or eligible to receive single-point delivery such as delivery to a hotel, college, military installation, or transient trailer park. A customer must pay the applicable fee for each additional box requested beyond the initial box obtained at the Group E fee. The online application tools described in 4.3.1b cannot be used for free Post Office box service.”

I have yet to see any notice posted within a rural postal facility mentioning possible eligibility for a free box. Nor does the Postal Service make this information easily found on its website, which is why it is posted here in as much detail as possible.  If you live in a non-delivery area, do not allow the Postal Service to illegally charge a fee for your PO box!  PO Boxes can cost upwards of $40 per year, and the financially-struggling Postal Service has no incentive to hand out free boxes. The only charge the post office may legally assess is a minor one-time key deposit, usually a dollar or two.

If you already have a paid PO box, and believe your box should be free, discuss it with your local postmaster (and certainly demand a refund for any paid prior years).  You have the relevant information on free boxes above, straight from the Postal Service’s own regulations.  By making customers fill out Form 1093, the Postal Service knows your residential address and certainly knows whether it delivers to your house and if you qualify for free box service. By charging a fee for qualified residents, the Postal Service is committing fraud. Don’t let the USPS get away with it.


(*The postal service does not seem to rationalize its distinction between rural residents and city dwellers living close to post offices.  Surely city dwellers are just as capable of picking up mail from a nearby post office. And, since there is typically more than one post office in a city, the USPS could save more money in mail delivery by applying this odd rule to everyone living near a post office.).




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54 responses to “Residents entitled to free Post Office boxes

  1. J

    How much do you know about this? My PO is very inconsistent about this issue. Different postal employees at our small PO give different answers.

    I live in a small apartment building in a small town that has no walking delivery service. There is vehicle delivery available in town as part of the rural route delivery that serves the surrounding farm community. Basically, you’re able to get curbside delivery if you put up a box at the street. Our landlord has not put up boxes for curbside delivery and therefore we must use PO Boxes. Mind you, I prefer the PO Box, and I can understand the landlord’s decision to not want to maintain mailboxes. This then begs the question, do I still qualify for a free PO Box? Our physical address does not get curbside delivery, but could. Does this absolve the PO from providing the residents of my building a PO Box for free?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to simply get something for free, especially if I don’t qualify for it. I’ve been paying my PO Box rental fee for 13 years without a second thought. It just happens that I learned about the free PO Box deal recently. If in fact I do qualify for the free box, then the PO certainly owes me a sizable refund of those fees.

    Any thoughts?

    • Unfortunately, it seems that if the USPS is willing to deliver to a curbside box, but can’t because a box hasn’t been placed, then PO boxes do cost money. I certainly understand the convenience of PO boxes over normal delivery, especially when packages and mail security are involved. I will add — if a person or business rents out a subdivided building which doesn’t receive delivery, it seems that only one person or business at that address benefits from a free PO box. The other persons or businesses in the building have to pay for the box (according to my local post office).

  2. Jon Posey

    Here’s an interesting question on a similar line.. I found your website while searching if the post office is required to provide to an apartment complex a way to send mail. I live in an old building (1960s) with about 500 residents. Our mail box is connected to a chute. The lock on the box in the basement broke. The USPS tried since Christmas to fix it but could not, so they’re closing the box and chute. To send mail we have to go to a post office now. So I’m just wondering: The USPS delivers mail to our boxes in the lobby, but are they required to provide a method of outgoing collection?

    Thank you very much for your thoughts

  3. Jon,
    That is an interesting question. The Domestic Mailing Manual seems to mostly address (ha, ha) issues with delivering mail and doesn’t often mention picking mail up. The following quote from the Domestic Mailing Manual may be some help. It would seem to me that the Postal Service must accept mail deposited into any ‘mail receptacle’ or place where mail is accepted. I would think that your building’s collection box would count as such a place, or alternatively, the individual boxes for each unit in your building would count as receptacles or places where mail is accepted. The Manual is rather vague on this subject. (I’m not a mail expert, I just researched the subject because of our own town’s delivery issues).

    136 – Deposit:
    “1.1 Single-Piece and Card Mailings
    Single-piece First-Class Mail letters and cards may be deposited into any collection box, mail receptacle, or at any place where mail is accepted if the full required postage is paid with adhesive stamps.”

  4. Dawn

    I live in a relatively small town. My parents, as well as a few other people I know, are getting their po boxes for free. I definately live within 1/4 mile of the post office and my parents are about the same. The USPS will not deliver to my house, but there is a bunch of mailboxes on the main road down the street from my house that they deliver to. Am I able to get my po box for free too??? I certainly meet the same ‘criteria’ that my parents and the others do, so I am just curious!! This $45 a year thing is kinda ridiculous especially considering my post office is only open 5 1/2 hrs a day!!! (9am-Noon, 2pm-4:30pm) which is also annoying and ridiculous! Anyway, just seeing if you have an answer! Thanks!

  5. Wow! This was really helpful. I know most Americans are unaware that their postal service can simply decide not to deliver mail to some rural locations. This creates some serious legal issues. For example, the IRS and banks require a physical address for an account. But the post office for my physical location (Cherry Valley, NY 13320, about 5 miles from our house) will not accept mail for that address, it simply returns the mail to the sender or throws it away.

    That led me to get a paid post office box at the nearest physical post office, which is only 1 mile from my physical address but in a different ZIP code, 13450. This is a great little post office that I know will keep parcels for me to pick up and so on..

    We have been told by USPS that if we place, at our expense, a physical mail box at a road junction about a mile from our house, on land we don’t own, they will deliver mail there. But that means I have drive there regularly to prevent it filling up, not easy to do when you live in a place that can get snowed in.

    If drive to that suggested location I might as well go to the place that has my P.O. box and cheerfully accumulates my mail for me. Besides, a physical box on the road is not going to work for parcels, so I would get a bunch of notices to go and get parcels from 5 miles away, adding a round trip of 10 miles to my life, versus finding them waiting at the P.O. Box that I currently use.

    Sadly, whenever I enter a new financial relationship I have to go through this huge explanation, which some people simply refuse to accept. For example, when my employer recently switched to a new payroll service they insisted on mailing my pay stub to my physical location. And of course the post office sent it back.

    Thanks for shedding light on this lack of service. For the record, United Parcel Service cheerfully delivers items right to our door, except for when the drive is icy, in which case they leave things in a secure spot at the end of the drive.

  6. Jan

    I live in a small town in California, and the Post Office does not deliver to my physical address. Last year, I was surprised to see a bill for $40 for a yearly rental on my box. After speaking with the employees at the Post Office, I was told that I either pay it or they would lock off my box. They actually showed me the manual and I pointed out that I was a perfect candidate for a free box. They also told me that I could put up a box of my own at the end of my dirt road, on a busy highway, which is a mile from my house and not very secure! I requested to speak with the Postmaster and of course never received a call. In this time, my box was locked off and I was forced to pay the charge in order to get my mail, plus a key fee because they changed the lock! I have had this box for 15 years and have NEVER had to pay. I seem to fit all the criteria of the “Domestic Mailing Manual”, but each time I try to talk with someone about it, it falls on deaf ears. Now again, I have received another bill for $42! If I don’t pay it, once again I will be locked out! Please advise me on this situation. What’s the best strategy for working out what I see is a huge problem? I would also like to know why they are not charging people in my area that are on pavement and do get mail delivery from a carrier? Makes no sense!

  7. Anonymous

    Is there any way to get your money back if you’ve been charged illegally? The post office told me that refunds were not allowed, even though they admitted to charging me illegally.

  8. gotglasses

    Just what personal information are postal employees required to obtain from the customer in order to provide a PO Box? have had a “free” box for 20 years in a second home in an area not served by any home delivery. The post office is always closed when I leave for work or arrive back in the evening. When I do get into the PO my box is often jammed with junk mail. The PO employees placed a Notice of box renewal in my mailbox and claim that I must prove that my box is for my primary residence. THey are very snoopy and want to know why I do not come in more often. They threaten to close my box if I do not show them personal information. What

  9. if you go read the manual now they updated it in september, it now states a few exceptions such as clusters of roadside boxes not being eligible (in my village they deliver mail on 3 streets and cluster the boxes, but I cannot put a box on the street behind mine as it will screw up their sequencing) and I have been paying for a PO box since 2008 when I moved in. I think I need to print the new page off and go request a refund for the prior years and go from there.

  10. James L Morehead

    I live in a small town . My home is just over one quarter mile from our post office. I have been charged for my box for over thirty years while the post office says they cant deliver mail to my home.My home is located facing the hwy 9.They deliver mail to people on the North side of the hwy but will not deliver to the SOUTH side. Yet they will not give me a Free box. If They wont deliver to my address arent I elgible for a free box ??

  11. Meri Ann

    b. The physical address or business location constitutes a potential carrier delivery point of service.

    What does this part of the policy mean? We are next door to the post office so it doesn’t kill us to walk over to get our mail…but we have paid the fee for years and years.

  12. Olga

    Reply to Jan,
    It seems we both have the same problem. I recently received a notice of renewal in my box as well and filled out the information. I was informed that everything was fine because I provided not only my ID but a utility bill with a physical address. The post master told me everything was fine and there was no problem. Today, I go to get my mail and find that I have been locked out. I spoke to the Postmaster again and now she states that my address is not coming up on their system so they can not provide me with a free box. (Hard to consider that their system may need some updated information.) Part of the problem appears to be that my house is located on a single lot with a front and rear designation and that they could only provide one box per address. I would have liked to have been told about that last week when I filled the necessary paperwork, or better yet 9 years ago. I have had my box (free) since 2002 with no issues. I asked about this and was informed that the previous people did not know what they were doing. I was, also, told to contact my local 911 service to validate the address, which I did, and was told by the service that they had nothing to do with it because they provided an address and the designation of front or rear was left up to the owners – pretty much like an apartment. My problem is if the utility companies designate the address as front and rear why can’t the post office. I have a seperate meter for light, gas and water. I called the 1-800-ask-USPS and filed a complaint. It is an automated system, so be sure to NOT answer any questions so you can get a live person on the line. I was provided with what appears to be a case number and told someone would call me. This definitely sounds naive and I am wondering if I will even get a call but at least it is a start.

    • Hi, I work in a small post office in southern California, and we got a new Postmaster who says that a “potential carrier delivery point” is the equivalent of one stop a carrier would make. She has checked with our Retail department and apparently they agree with her. This means we no longer provide free PO Boxes to all units on a lot. Only one will receive a free po box, the other families have to pay. It’s creating quite a bit of ill will between us and our customers. I personally disagree with the ruling, because all the units would have separate receptacles for free if we provided home delivery, and I interpret “universal free mail delivery” to mean that each family would receive a private receptacle. Whenever I must charge a family to receive mail, I apologize to them.

  13. Kim Messer

    Our elementary public school is located in a small town with a post office. I say we are within the quarter mile radius of the post office. We requested delivery to school but they refuse. I know that the next community about 4 miles away has a post office and the elementary school there is within the quarter mile radius. They are not required to have a po box and the po delivers their mail to the school. For some reason they deliver there within the quarter mile radius. Now that po is saying that anyone living on that school’s street has an option to put up mailboxes and will have to pay for po box fees since they deliver to that school on that street. The po does not deliver to anyone else in the quarter mile radius but only to the elementary school. There is other businesses in that area but they don’t deliver to them. Is that legal to deliver within the quarter mile radius to the elementary school? Does the po have an option to pick and choose who they deliver to in the quarter mile radius.

    Now back to my elementary school. We have to pay for a larger box due to the amount of mail we receive. If the box is full, I have to go to teller and get the rest of mail. Since we are an elementary school are they required to deliver our mail or do they have an option to deliver or not since we are within the quarter mile radius, I don’t have a regular box at po it is a larger one since I am a school. Can I still get a refund for my larger box and years we paid for it. For a free box is the school allowed to get a smaller one and get it for free? I am confused since the other po office delivers to the other school and I our po won’d deliver to ours.

    Please let me know – I appreciate your help.

  14. lisa corpus

    I need a po box my father goes through all my mail, and throws things away, I did not give him permission

  15. Rita

    I live in a small town where there has never been USPS delivery. In order to receive mail we have to have a box at the Post Office. I have had this box for about 35 years and the box rent has gotten higher and higher. The one due now is $44. Are you telling me I am entitled to a free box and could possibly be reimbursed for all those years of paying box rent?

    • CJ Fernandes

      I don’t know that they will reimburse you for the previous years, but if there is absolutely no delivery service offered at all or possible, then yes they do need to give you a free box. It seems some post offices are going on their own rules. For 1093 mentions partial refunds which you may be entitled to since you paid already. You just need to go talk to the post master directly or call USPS directly about it.

  16. Linda

    I just renewed my PO Box today after reading this list yesterday. I showed my Drivers License and she stamped it and I am good for another year. free. I asked the post master about your complaints of being charged. She said “tell them to request the postmaster send a letter to there address. If theyuse a PO Box then it is free because the PO has no other way to send mail either.” Hope this helps.

  17. CJ Fernandes

    In my new town, we get a free PO Box because there is no delivery service in the community at my new address. If there is any way or means to deliver to your house, then they will charge you for the box . On my part, I am relocating from Missouri to Arizona and in order to have my mail forwarded before I leave, I do have to pay for 6 months. My postmaster in Arizona told me that when the 6 months are up and its time to renew, I just simply need to go in and set it up to no longer be charged. pretty straightforward and simple.

  18. john

    how come you have to pay for a po box but not for a mail box?? ilive about 1/4 mile from post office and my phiscal address is different than my pobox address and i can not get a mail box for rural delivery and have to pay $44 dollars a year but the person across the road has a mail box and pays nothing. the post office is open only 2 hours a day 5 days a week. seems they are broke why not charge every person with a mail box or a pobox a small charge (like $5 a month) that would generate enought money help keep them afloat.

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  21. Karen Bostian

    I live in a town that does not have home delivery service for our mail. We never had been charged for a box until recently because our P.O. had to be re-built and now we have to pay. I have lived here many years. I have talked to them about this and I get told this is the way it is. Not everyone I talk to have had to pay. I ask about this and they say it go’s in a cycle that they will get around to the others.

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  28. LocalYokel

    For years I handed over the fee for a PO Box as there’s no delivery to my house (I can see the PO from my house). Then I asked about the fee after yet another huge increase and was told I was entitled to a free box as long as I took the smallest available box. So that’s what I did.

    • Steve

      I am fighting with the PO right now about this very same situation. I have to pay $48.00. My boro has a PO and a zipcode and I live in the boro. The PO is saying that if I want free mail, I will have to change my address to another town who provides rural deliver and then install a mail box. I have showed them their own policies and they ignore my claims for free PO Box. Any suggestions? I have written to my State Senator and not much luck with him either. Government is crooked!

  29. LocalYokel

    Now I’m in a fight with the PO as they won’t deliver any mail addressed to my street address as I have the free PO Box and no delivery to my house. They’ve marked mail NMR (no mail recepticle) and returned it to sender from Government agencies that insist on using my street address. The US Census Bureau and the DMV won’t send mail to a PO Box. I’m unable to find anything in the DMM that refers to this situation. Here’s the link to the “Group E” mailboxes in the DMM, including handing out the smallest box for free if you meet the criteria.

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  32. My post master refuses to refund my money charged me for four years. I overheard a customer complaining of no mail service to her home and he told her she could have the smallest box free. Told me he could notrefund money and I had just paid another 52.00 for the year. Who do I go to for help

  33. CJ Fernandes

    Honestly, from the mix of answers we are getting, there seems to be no uniform rules postmasters are going by. They make up their own depending on their preference or mood.

    Anyone who is being charged when there is absolutely no possibility of door to door service should write to:

    Postmaster General Pat Donahoe
    475 L’Enfant Plaza SW
    Washington, DC 20260-0010

    The only way to make change is to put enough noise to the head guy. They don’t like to receive complaints and if enough people make a fuss about this, then maybe we could get something more uniform in place.

  34. Carey

    Does it matter if I am a renter?

    I recently contacted my local post office where I currently have my PO Box. I inquired about the free ‘Group-E’ box. The lady got very defensive and told me that I did not qualify because I don’t own the house.

    I’m a permanent resident. I have lived at this address for 3 years. My drivers license, w-2, and voting registry all reflect this address. But, I don’t own the house. Is she mistaken?

  35. I went to the PO recently and they gave me form 4232. I’ve also explained to them I DO WANT a roadside box… now that I see it can be FREE I will see if I can get it… stay tuned.

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  37. Norm

    First time I met her, my local post office clerk at edgewood nm wouldn’t let me have a one inch piece of tape to tape an envelope shut, claiming that USPS regulations forbid handing tape across the counter. I went to another post office, that different clerk gladly shared a piece of tape, as do all others. This stingy clerk is now a post master at a nearby location. I get a regular run around from this stingy clerk now PM.

    They don’t work for us, they don’t work for you. They work for only them.

    • Hi, I work at a small post office, and the stingy clerk is right, the USPS official policy is tape your own. However, each Postmaster can decide whether or not to follow the letter of the law. My current Postmaster allows my co-worker and me to just buy tape out of our own pocket and share our own with our customers. My last Postmaster said no, because she and another co-worker would not go out and buy tape for customers and customers would pitch a fit because they had gotten free tape before. We go thru at least a roll of wrapping tape a week. And we’re in a small office. The cost to the USPS if all post offices were allowed to give tape would be huge. Sorry.

  38. R

    We have had a PO box for nearly thirty years. Several years ago the Postmistress (PM) stopped charging us for the box. Then a new PM started charging us again. She stated that although we lived on a road that the PO DID NOT deliver to, we were not eligible for a no fee box because there was ample space at the end on the road for a delivery box. A neighbor who lives closer to the end of the road than us, but on a road connecting ours, does not pay PO box fees because the PM has determined that only those locations on roads NOT connected to serviced roads are eligible for no fee boxes. When we ask her to produce the regulation, she got very mad and said the charging or not charging for PO boxes was a locale PM decision. What can we do to rectify this without making a serious enemy of the PM?

  39. Jeremy Weichsel

    I’ve lived at the same address for over 10 years as a renter in a rural area in CA. Until recently my PO box was free. Now I’m being charged $92/year for the box, even though no delivery to my home is available. Have the laws governing “Group E” boxes changed recently, or is the local PM just getting greedy?

    • The catch (in my PO) is that I could have a free box, but I had to take the smallest size. As my annual fee kept going up and up and I was using less and less, I downsized and got the free one.

    • mreggmusic

      Hey Jeremy. We had the same thing a few years back. We did have a larger box at the time and we paid for it.

      Also when we moved from FK to Woodacre we kept the FK box as we had a business. When we moved back to FK we kept paying for it unwittingly until our postmaster Jim (arguably one of the nicest in the SGV) said “Hey is this your primary residence? If so it’s free. (Small box that is.)

      Just in case you moved around any?

      Good luck!

  40. This very same issue has just arisen in Dubois, WY, and I wrote a letter (or two) to the editor of our local paper about the failure of USPS to notify residents about the existence of a Group E no-fee box. Like many of the comments here, numerous longtime Dubois residents who are eligible had no clue that no-fee boxes even existed. My original letter caused sufficient uproar in USPS that the policy here was changed and there is now a notice posted inside the post office informing everyone about the no-fee boxes. The question of refunds, especially for those who recently paid a fee, remains unresolved.

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