Is there any preference between a street address and PO Box?

Question

Is there any preference (within the USPS) between street address and PO Box? Street Address vs PO Box

Answer

From a financial standpoint, the answer is "Yes". A letter delivered to a PO Box costs the USPS less money because they don't have to transport that letter to a street location. They just deposit it in the PO Box which is at the same location that the letter is sorted. It's within the Post Office. So, if you provide a valid street address AND a valid PO Box and ask them to choose, they'll almost always go with the PO Box. (Want to see if an address is valid?)

However, there are a few "tricks" that you should know, that determine whether a letter will go to the PO Box or the physical location. The price of postage is the same either way, and you just want the item that you are mailing to arrive at it's destination, regardless of the method. So, let's look at some addresses and see what happens with each variation.

345 Airport Rd
PO Box 1242
Malta, MT 59538

This one has a valid address in the first address line AND a valid address in the second address line. Since both are valid there would be no change to the arrangement of the addresses. A letter addressed in this way would be delivered to the Airport Rd address.

Swapping the two address lines makes it look different but doesn't change the logic.

PO Box 1242
345 Airport Rd
Malta, MT 59538

Since both address lines still contain valid addresses there would be no change to the arrangement. In this case, it would be delivered to the PO Box address.

Having already established that the Post Office does have a slight preference, let's see what happens if the two addresses are combined on the same line:

345 Airport Rd PO Box 1242
Malta, MT 59538

or

PO Box 1242 345 Airport Rd
Malta, MT 59538

When these addresses are normalized to USPS standards, they are both converted to:

PO Box 1242
345 Airport Rd
Malta, MT 59538

Preference is given to the PO Box address, with the other address listed on address line 2. Thus, if you have a preference between a street address and a PO Box, put the preferred address on the first line and the "backup" address on the second line.

Let's look at one more example.

PO Box 1844
16346 E. Graham Circle
Palmer, AK 99645

16346 E. Graham Circle
PO Box 1844
Palmer, AK 99645

The two address lines are swapped. However the Graham Circle address is not valid according to the USPS. Thus, the first address is valid and the second one is not. The USPS treats the address line 2 as just "extra information", information that is helpful to the person actually delivering the mail but not to the system that is routing and processing the mail.

However if the address line 1 and address line 2 were combined:

PO Box 1844 16346 E. Graham Circle
Palmer, AK 99645

or

16346 E. Graham Circle PO Box 1844
Palmer, AK 99645

It will always return:

PO Box 1844
16346 E Graham Circle
Palmer, AK 99645

Notice that the Graham Circle address is on the second line. Even though that is not a valid USPS address, it may still be valuable data so our system doesn't discard it, just relegates it to address line 2, where the "extra data" lives.

Product Features Demo Pricing Help Company Documentation Articles Contact Customers Legal Stuff