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Certified Mail vs. Certified Mail Return Receipt

Certified Mail® is a USPS mail service commonly used to send important documents. The sender can track their Certified Mail through the USPS and be notified of Proof of Delivery once the item has been delivered or a delivery attempt has been made.

Certified Mail is used in a wide range of industries: including law firms, accounting firms, healthcare providers, court systems, property managers, process servers, insurance companies, contractors and hundreds more, most often when legal statutes on the local, state and federal level mandate the user of Certified Mail.

The mail service is also convenient for consumers and businesses when sending tax documents to the IRS. This comes especially in handy with IRS Tax Code Section 750(c). Otherwise known as the “timely mailing, timely filing” or the “mailbox” rule, this code states that if you can prove your document was mailed to the IRS by the due date, then it is deemed “received” on the day it was mailed, even if it is received several days later, or misplaced by the tax authorities.

Many people assume Certified Mail always receives a signature from the recipient upon delivery, but in fact standard Certified Mail only includes a Proof of Mailing receipt and confirmation that the letter was delivered if you track in online at

What is Return Receipt?

Return Receipt is an important extra service that is added to Certified Mail, to ensure the USPS gets a signature from the recipient upon delivery. Approximately 70% of all Certified Mail pieces are sent with instructions than the mail carrier receive a signature. along with information about the delivery address and the date and time of delivery. A Return Receipt must be purchased from the USPS at the time of mailing.

There are two ways you can receive your USPS Return Receipt signature:

Option #1: Return Receipt by Mail

Commonly known as the “Green Card”, the Return Receipt by mail requires the sender to fill out the PS Form 3811. The Green Card includes the sender’s address and is attached to the item being sent. Upon delivery, the Green Card is signed by the recipient and mailed back to the sender.

Example of USPS PS Form 3811, aka “Green Card”

Here are the disadvantages associated with Return Receipt by mail:

  • You’ll need to wait for the Green Card to be returned by mail to see the signature.
  • Green Cards can get lost in the mail, requiring the mailer sent a replacement letter.
  • Green Cards need to be manually stored in file cabinets, which can be make it inconvenient to search for specific cards later.
  • Only the original Green Card with a signature is viable for legal actions in court.
  • A digital photo of the Green Card is invalid. Businesses have made the mistake of taking a picture and disposing of the original copy, which eliminates their legal proof of delivery.

Option #2: Return Receipt Electronic

Senders can opt for an electronic version of their Return Receipt. The Return Receipt Electronic contains the same information as the Green Card, but in a PDF format. Unlike the Green Card, where only the original is deemed acceptable for Proof of Delivery with a signature, any printout of the electronic PDF is accepted as the legal equivalent of the Green Card. Your Return Receipt Electronic can be conveniently saved on your computer, emailed, and printed at any time with multiple copies. All are considered originals.

Return Receipt Electronic Image
Example of Return Receipt Electronic

Going the electronic route means you don’t have to store the physical Green Card for your records and eliminates the possibility of the card being damaged in the mail. You can also easily access your Proof of Delivery electronically as part of any legal cases in the future.

Comparing Certified Mail vs. Certified Return Receipt

It’s a common mistake to assume Certified Mail alone will provide a signature confirmation upon delivery of your letters or package. While a signature is obtained by USPS when delivering Certified Mail, that signature cannot be used for legal purposes. You must purchase a Return Receipt to receive a signature confirmation.

Filing deadlines are very important for certain documents to avoid penalties and fines. In the case of liens, a missing signature could invalidate your right to add the lien. Having Proof of Delivery through Certified Mail along with a signature through Return Receipt can provide vital evidence to help with legal issues. Combining these two delivery options are a low-cost way to provide convenience and peace of mind.

How Simple Certified Mail Can Help

If you need to send important letters via Certified Mail, it couldn’t be any easier than with Here’s how it works:

  • No post office trips required: Prepare, print and send Certified Mail and Return Receipt from your computer using plain paper and our free Certified Mail envelopes.
  • No more manual forms or Green Cards to complete by hand: Certified Mail is too important to rely on the traditional manual forms that are prone to error. We automate everything to eliminate manual processing errors.
  • Print one at a time or hundreds using our Batch Process: Quickly generate multiple Certified Mail with or without Return Receipt using our simple batch processing feature or integrate with our REST API.
  • Simple and easy pricing: No subscription fees, no equipment leases and no hidden transaction fees. Our costs are included in the price. Plus, we provide free Certified Mail envelopes forever!

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There is no charge to set up an account. Sign up today! If you have questions, contact us toll-free at 888-462-1750.

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