I can see how debt can grow into something uncontrollable and unmanageable to the point of crushing someone financially. This is what I could foresee happening to me if I took up all the loan offers that used to come my way. I would wonder: how did mail marketers find out where I live? After all, I don’t borrow very much — I only have a small credit card line which I pay off monthly and a reasonably sized mortgage. Should we resign ourselves to a fate filled with mail spam for the rest of our lives?
Our Junk Mail Problem
We have a junk mail problem in this country. The U.S. Postal Service processes and delivers 272.4 million pieces of advertising mail each day. A lot of mine ends up on my dining room table in the form of pizza coupons and reminders from magazines that I only have three issues left. I also get a weekly letter from the phone company imploring me to call about a wonderful deal they’ve found for me. Then there are loan offers. Have you ever stopped to think about how much money is dropping by your doorstep in the guise of home equity lines of credit, credit card applications, random loan deals, checking account offers (at least, there’s no evil catch on this one) and such? I mean, just think about all those juicy checks and easy dollars they dangle in front of us. I ruined my latest shredder while trying to dispose of one too many credit card offers.
During the peak of the credit bubble, I calculated a week’s worth of junk mail offers and came up with around $600K of credit and free miles ready for me to pluck and spend away. There were at least 15 credit card enticements in our pile, all pretty much saying the same thing and trumpeting similar deals, most with limits set at $2,000. We, of course, treat all of this as scrap, which means they immediately hit the confetti bin as torn, indistinguishable shreds. But I couldn’t help but think about all the people who have received the same tempting credit lines who think of these as life saving schemes and as a way out of denial and constant restriction. These days, things have tamed down somewhat but not in an entirely significant way.
I personally get annoyed that so much paper had to go in the production of so much junk. And frankly, here’s wishing that you do too. Is there something we can do about managing the amount of unsolicited mail we receive?
Older Methods of Controlling Junk Mail
In the past, a number of standard solutions seemed effective, if a bit time consuming. Here’s a look at a few of them.
The major credit bureaus offer OptOutPrescreen.com to consumers who don’t want precreened credit and insurance offers. You can opt out for either five years via the website or permanently, by filling out a form and mailing it in. You can change your mind and opt-in again later if your needs change.
Note that this method will only stop prescreened offers for credit and insurance, not the stacks of advertising from local merchants such as the pizza places downtown, the funeral homes or the dry cleaners. You’ll still hear from politicians and charity groups, though. However, you shouldn’t be worried that signing up for this service will affect your ability to apply for credit.
Some time back, I took the time to drop by the Direct Marketing Association to see what to do about the junk mail coming to my home. This group now offers DMAchoice.org so consumers can list their preferences for commercial mail. They can also help you with unsolicited email. However, this won’t stop all commercial mail or unsolicited email because not all marketers subscribe to the DMA’s service.
#3 National Do Not Call Registry
This registry can stop many telemarketers from dialing your phone number, but not all of them. Thanks to a law that became effective in 2008, your number will be on the registry permanently. Ironically, Today Money found out that the amount of junk mail sent out increased after the Do Not Call Registry began in 2003. But I’m happy that the volume of unsolicited calls to my house has decreased since I signed up.
#4 Say No To Correspondence (or Go Paperless)
Finally, don’t forget to look for opt-out information when you sign up for a new service or shop at a new online store. This should stop any offers from hitting your mailboxes. If you have a choice between having mail or receipts going to your home’s mailbox vs your email inbox, go for the email option to reduce the paper clutter.
Free & Paid Services To Stop Junk Mail
There are other solutions to help us control junk mail, some of which have a fee. Let’s check them out.
#1 Catalog Choice
In addition to the more familiar methods of reducing junk mail, there are innovative services like Catalog Choice. It’s a company that can assist you with stemming the junk mail river. According to the Los Angeles Times, Catalog Choice has processed 20 million requests to stop catalogs in the last four years. They aim to reduce clutter and protect your privacy by removing your name from marketing databases. Also, you’ll be helping the environment by teaming up with the company.
You can register for free. The free service lets you opt out of mail from individual companies. Start out by entering your name and address, then you can start searching for companies to remove. Catalog Choice will then work to remove you from company lists. You can search your zip code to remove phone books, coupons and other types of marketing, too. If you have junk mail in more than one name or you receive it at multiple addresses, you can add them in as well. I found this beneficial because some of my junk mail still sports my maiden name.
When I decided to eliminate a phone book, I was asked to check the name and address and check off a reason for stopping the service. After that, I was told it may take another mailing cycle since the labels are printed ahead of time. And since Catalog Choice is a non-profit, I was asked to donate to help offset the cost of running the service.
There are over 3,000 companies you can target with the free service. After you’ve made your selections, you can track the status under the “Your Choices” tab. The organization pledges to never sell your email or address to anyone, in case you have privacy concerns.
Catalog Choice has paid services as well, which aims to tackle the junk mail problem more efficiently:
- You can also opt for their upgraded service called the MailStop Shield. This is an annual service that can get your name removed from a variety of databases. But it’s available for an annual cost of $20.
- MailStop Envelope is another premium service for $6.75, which will send you a postage-paid envelope from Catalog Choice. Place your junk mail and catalogs into this envelope, which you then return to Catalog Choice to process on your behalf. You can put 15 opt-outs at a time in the envelope. They’ll process things like charitable solicitations, coupons, catalogs and other direct mail.
- Another service coming soon is MailStop Mobile, so you can use your iPhone to opt-out of junk mail.
Balking at the cost of using these services? Their MailStop Shield costs less than most of the shredders I priced last week and I stand to save a ton of time.
Another company that wants to help you control junk mail is 41pounds.org. Their name comes from a statistic: the average person receives 41 pounds of spam a year! If this is the case, I can only weep for our forests! The site claims to stop 80% to 95% of the junk mail and catalogs that you don’t want. Incidentally, the service costs $41 for five years, which works out to a little over $8 a year. You can add the names of other household members to this service as well.
Updater is another company willing to combat your junk mail. The Address Privacy package costs $0.50 a month, which allows you to customize your own Do-Not-Mail list. Through this service, you’ll be able to filter out the spam from your snail mail and block out marketing groups from accessing your contact information. Updater also has a free Address Change service to make it more convenient for you if you’re planning a move.
So does junk mail bother you? Are any of the paid services worth it to you if you could skip the catalogs, phone books, pizza coupons and credit card solicitations that clog your mailbox?
Created March 18, 2007. Updated November 30, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.