Practical Money Matters for Sept. 27, 2012

How to stem the tide of junk mail

September 25, 2012 

Here's more than you ever wanted to know about junk mail: Each year, direct mail creates 10 billion pounds of solid waste in the U.S. and costs local communities more than $1 billion in collection and disposal expenses – not to mention putting you at greater risk for identity theft if you don't shred personalized mailings before tossing.

So how can you stop the flood of junk mail you receive? You could try moving or changing your name, but as you've probably noticed, a lot of what's delivered to your mailbox is addressed to "Occupant." In fact, the U.S. Postal Service relies heavily on such deliveries, which now outnumber first-class postage mailings.

Here are a few more practical suggestions for stemming the tide:

A good way to significantly reduce the number of offers you get for new credit accounts and insurance is to register with www.OptOutPrescreen.com, a secure Web site created by the leading credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion).

By completing a simple online form, you can request to be removed from marketing lists the bureaus supply to lenders and insurance companies for use in firm (preapproved) credit or insurance offers. The electronic opt-out is valid for five years. If you want to opt out permanently, you must mail the form to the address provided. You can also opt back into such mailings electronically through the Web site. And, if you prefer, you may opt in or out by phone at 888-567-8688.

Another good method to curb the amount of direct mail you receive is to register with www.DMAchoice.org, a program run by the Direct Marketing Association, the leading trade organization for businesses and non-profits that send direct mail. When you register, your name is put in a "delete" file that is sent to DMA's 3,600-plus members to check against their mailing lists.

It's important to note that not all marketers belong to DMA, so registering won't stop all such mailings. Also, it won't stop mailings from companies you already do business with or to which you've made a donation in the past. To get off their lists you'll have to contact them directly.

You can also register with DMAchoice.org to stop mail from being sent to a deceased individual or if you want to manage mail being sent to a dependent in your care. And, they have an e-mail preference service where you can opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial e-mails from DMA members for six years.

A third opt-out option to explore is www.CatalogChoice.org, a free service that helps you submit opt-out requests for catalogs, coupons, credit card offers, phonebooks, circulars and more. Catalog Choice also offers several paid options where they do more of the legwork to get you off third-party mailing databases.

One last suggestion: If you've got elderly parents, you might want to screen their mail for an overabundance of direct mail – especially catalogs and solicitations for money. If they're on a fixed income and susceptible to strong sales pitches, the combination can be devastating to their bank account. You can help them register with the organizations mentioned above.

No matter how diligent your efforts to get yourself off unwanted mailing lists, you're probably still going to get some junk mail. But it's good to know there are ways to significantly scale back the amount.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. Sign up for his free monthly e-Newsletter at www.practicalmoneyskills.com /newsletter.

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