Writing a certified letter can be nearly as intimidating as receiving one. Here is a look at the process.
What Is a Certified Letter?
The US Postal Service defines Certified Mail as a type of mail that “provides the sender with a mailing receipt and electronic verification that an article was delivered or that a delivery attempt was made”. Such letters require the recipient to provide a signature before the postal worker hands the letter over.
Certified Mail offers several advantages:
- You will receive written confirmation from the post office that you have indeed mailed the letter.
- You will be notified when the post office delivers the letter or makes a delivery attempt. You can keep track of your letter via the USPS tracking service (available through usps.com) and through your phone. You only need the tracking number to follow your letter’s status.
- The post office will maintain records about the details of the Certified Mail for two years.
- After taking further steps, the sender may also receive electronic proof of the signature.
The main purpose of a certified letter is to ensure that the letter was indeed delivered and seen by the recipient — and the records the post office keeps, and makes available to senders on request, are valid legal documents.
Certified Mail is different from Registered Mail in that Registered Mail works through a system where the post office maintains records regarding the correspondence, but with Certified Mail, the sender may also obtain these records.
Further important things you may want to know about Certified Mail include:
- One tier of Certified Mail, called Certified Mail with Restricted Delivery, ensures that the certified letter is only delivered to your intended recipient or someone who has power of attorney and is acting on behalf of the recipient.
- Certified Mail can also be restricted to signatories at the relevant address who are 21 years of age or older.
- Senders can receive a refund if no proof of delivery or attempt thereof is provided within 30 days.
Who Can Write a Certified Letter?
Any adult can write and send a certified letter, but certified letters are not simply used to keep track of a letter and ensure its delivery (used Registered Mail for this purpose, instead).
The most common types of correspondence to be sent as Certified Mail include:
- Demand letters. These letters are sent to demand settlement of a dispute, and typically request payment after the intended recipient defaults on a contract. Contractors may send demand letters following non-payment, but these letters are also sent by financial institutions. In almost all cases, demand letters are written by lawyers and immediately precede planned legal action.
- Demand letters for insurance companies. This type of letter may be sent by individuals, rather than lawyers, so it is worthwhile to highlight them individually. When making a claim, such as a personal injury claim, you may have to write a certified letter to access insurance payouts.
- Certified letters from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are sent for multiple purposes. The IRS needs proof that it attempted to notify you of the relevant outstanding issue and therefore uses the Certified Mail system. Example of such letters include Final Notice and Notice of Your Right to a Hearing.
- Notice of Intent to Sue letters are also sent via Certified Mail. These letters should be written by qualified attorneys or their employees (such as paralegals) and should not be written by laypeople.
- Formal invitations are sent via Certified Mail, too. Invitations to a graduation ceremony or an award ceremony are among the most common purposes in this context.
- Individuals may also use Certified Mail to send sensitive documents, for the added security. Examples of cases in which using Certified Mail may make sense would be to forward college transcripts, identity documents such as birth certificates, and contracts or titles to someone. Now that you know how Certified Mail works, you can decide whether sending a certified letter is the best course of action in your situation.
How To Write A Certified Letter
Certified Mail is, as we have seen, simply a service the USPS offers to allow the sender to track delivery and receive proof of delivery (or failure to deliver, as the case may be). Not all Certified Mail consists of letters, as non-restricted items may also be sent via Certified Mail, with or without the inclusion of a letter.
If you are indeed sending a certified letter, however, you will want to:
- Ascertain that it is acceptable to move forward with writing the letter yourself — in many cases, certified letters are sent by attorneys. Not only does this ensure that the appropriate legal jargon is used within the letter, but it also adds credibility to the certified letter.
- If you are writing a certified letter yourself, and the letter is of a serious, sensitive, or legal nature, you will want to use a standard business letter format and maintain formal and clear language throughout.
The contents of the letter will vary greatly depending on the purpose of the letter, of course. A certified letter should be formatted just like any other business letter, with some small differences.
Normal business letters are formatted in the following way:
- Sender’s name and address.
- Date (the date on which the letter is written)
- Recipient’s name and address.
- Opening salutation (such as “Dear Mr Green,”)
- A subject line, where needed.
- The body of the text.
- The closing salutation, following by a signature and the sender’s name.
In certified letters, however, the date should be stated first, followed immediately by a line indicating that the letter was sent via Certified Mail — a simple “Sent by Certified Mail” will suffice. It is also important to include a subject line, so that the recipient can immediately understand what the certified letter is about — such as “Re: Outstanding Rent Payment for September”.
What about the envelope? The recipient’s address should be placed in the usual position, but your post office will appreciate it if you include the return address in the top left corner, on the same side. Providing a return address is especially important in case of Certified Mail, to cater to the possibility that the certified letter cannot be delivered.
General Guidelines on Writing a Certified Letter
As you are writing a certified letter, you will want to include — generally speaking in this precise order, the following:
- Who you are and, where relevant, who you are writing on behalf of. If your certified letter uses an official letterhead and seal, which clarifies the sender already, you may opt not to include this information. In this case, your signature will provide further information about the exact person sending the letter.
- Factual details regarding the matter you are addressing in your certified letter. Explain why you are writing briefly, but ensure that you include all relevant information. Let’s take the example of a private landlord urging a tenant to pay missed rent. In that case, you could state: “My records indicate that we have not received rent for the months of October and November, and that your outstanding payment currently stands at $2,600.” The recipient now understands what the letter is about.
- Detail what action you need the recipient to take in response to the certified letter. To continue with the previous example, for instance, you could say: “This letter is to request that the outstanding payment is made in full by January 15.” You may also add ways in which the recipient can take the action you are aiming for, which might in this example mean payment options.
- Explain what will happen if the recipient disregards the letter. If we continue with the example above, that would be something like “We will be forced to explore further legal action unless full payment is made”, but the tone can also be significantly friendlier. For instance, a certified letter inviting the recipient to a graduation ceremony may explain how they can gain access to the diploma if they are unable to attend the event.
- If the certified letter is of a legal nature, you may further add that the certified letter (and specifically the confirmation that the recipient received the letter and thus had the opportunity to read it) can be used as evidence in legal proceedings. You can also add (where relevant), that if the receiving party has already fulfilled their obligations as specified in the letter, no further action is required and they may disregard the contents of the letter.
- Use a closing salutation such as “Sincerely,” and sign your name and position (where relevant).
The wording used in a certified letter should generally be formal, factual, and dispassionate. Forget everything you may have learned about good grammar and writing, and use the passive voice where available.
Instead of “you didn’t pay rent!”, write “payment was not received”. Instead of “stupid, horrible, neighbors, you’re blasting your music 24/5 and I’m going f****** insane, stop it dude or I’m gonna call a lawyer”, write: “In accordance with [such and such city ordinances], exceeding [specify decibel level] is prohibited. As such, we request that you observe the rules, or we will be forced to explore further legal action”.
You get the idea — if you are writing a certified letter of a legal nature yourself, take a step back from any emotions you may be feeling and use the most formal language you possibly can. As the letter is legal in nature and may serve as evidence, you will want to check and double check that everything you state within it is accurate before you proceed with sending it.
Certified Letter Examples and Templates
Do you remain uncertain about how to move forward? Use the template below, or explore our certified letter examples.
Certified Letter Template
Sent by Certified Mail
[Sender’s name and address]
[Recipient’s name and address]
Dear [Title, Surname],
Re: [Subject Line]
[Explain who you are.] [Immediately following, succinctly state your reason for writing.]
[Explain what action the sender needs to take.] [Briefly summarize what will happen if the appropriate action is not taken.]
[Explain that the receipt of the letter will be taken as evidence that the recipient is aware of the required steps and that it may be used as evidence.]
[Leave three blank lines.]
Certified Letter Examples
Now that you understand the correct formatting, we will offer some examples of content you may include in a certified letter, without the bells and whistles.
- In a certified letter to cancel gym membership, you can write: “I am writing to give formal notice of my intention to cancel my gym membership as of [date]. My contract number is [number]. I await written confirmation of my membership cancellation within 30 days.” This is a letter in which you cancel a contract, and other letters for the same purpose (such as with an internet service provider) will be similar.
- In a certified letter of no trespass, you can write: “This letter serves as formal notice that you are prohibited from entering [address], effective immediately. In the event that trespassing occurs, you may be subject to further legal action.”
- In a demand letter for a bad check, you may write: “The check written on [include details of date, purpose, amount, payor, payee, and so forth] was returned due to [reason]. This letter serves as a request to fulfill your payment obligation for [amount] in full by [date]. To the contrary, a small claims court case will be filed.”
- In a certified letter demanding to collect money you are owed, you may write something like: “Payment for invoice [number] sent on [date] for the amount of [dollars] is overdue, and I am requesting payment to be sent by [date].” You can add a note welcoming the discussion of payment plans where relevant.
- Eviction letters can contain wording like: “You are hereby notified that you have [number of days] to vacate the property at [address]. Failure to comply will be met with [specified legal action].”
How to Send a Certified Mail Through USPS
The US Postal Service offers a number of different Certified Mail options, including First-Class Mail, First-Class Package Service Commercial, and Priority Mail. Request a return receipt, which will provide you with proof of delivery, at the time of mailing.
How to Send Through Post Office
Prepare your certified letter and address the envelope as previously discussed, by presenting your return address on the same side. Let the USPS employee know that you would like to send a certified letter. They will walk you through the process and you will receive a validated receipt.
How to Send Online
Some companies report that they allow you to send a certified letter entirely online. Instead of using these third-party services, it is recommended that you go to the post office; not all of these companies are legitimate.
How to Track Delivery Status
You will be able to track attempted and successful delivery by using the tracking number you will receive through the USPS website, or through your phone, using the USPS app. First-Class Certified Mail typically takes two to five business days to deliver, while Priority Mail is faster, at two to three days.
The USPS will leave a notice to collect the Certified Mail if nobody is home or nobody answers the door. Should it not be picked up, the certified letter will again be delivered after five to seven days. A third attempt is made five to seven days later if the attempt was unsuccessful again. Following a final failed delivery attempt, the Certified Mail is returned to the sender.
How Much Does It Cost To Send A Certified Letter?
Senders will have to pay the appropriate rates for Priority Mail, First-Class Mail, or First-Class Package Commercial. In addition, rates specific to Certified Mail apply. As of 2022, they are as follows:
- Certified Mail fee: $3.75
- Electronic Delivery Confirmation Receipt: $0.85
- Return Receipt Green Card: $3.05
- Return Receipt Electronic Signature (in lieu of Green Card): $1.85
- Restricted Delivery: $6.00
What Happens After Sending A Certified Letter?
Receiving a certified letter is, for many people, a truly frightening experience — sufficiently so that they understand how serious your intentions are and will, to the best of their ability, fulfill your demands. This does not always happen. When you send a certified letter, you need to be willing to follow it up with legal action, and hiring a lawyer is the recommended next step.
Does a certified letter mean bad news?
Often, but not always. A certified letter is also frequently used to notify you about graduation, for instance.
How can you tell who sent the certified letter?
There will ideally be a return address, and the sender should always identify themselves. To the contrary, the letter holds no meaning.
What is the best way to send certified mail?
Via USPS by visiting the post office in person.
Who delivers certified mail?
USPS workers deliver Certified Mail.
Where do you write certified mail on the letter?
Immediately under the date.
Can you send USPS certified mail to a P.O box?
Yes, you can.
What do you need to do to send a certified letter with return receipt?
Simply specify that you would like a return receipt when you are mailing your letter.
Can a person refuse to receive a certified letter?
Certainly. That is not generally recommended, however, as certified letters usually bear important official or legal information. The problem won’t go away if you refuse to receive the letter.