Has this ever happened to you? If so, you know the drill. The post office holds your mailing until you can scrape together some cash or a check. If your meter account runs out, the vendor will loan you a mere $500. In either case, it usually results in a delayed mailing.


Dairyland Power Cooperative is a midsized mailer. Most of our mail is First-Class metered, but we also do a fair amount of permit imprint mailings. Running out of funds in either our permit imprint or meter account posed a problem for us. Getting a check for postage is not an easy task since general-fund checks are only processed on Tuesdays. (Requesting a manual check is frowned upon...I know, because I have done it many times.) Therefore, in order to keep peace with the accounting department yet still cover our needs, we simply kept excess money in our accounts. Unfortunately, we had a lot of cash sitting in U.S. Postal Service accounts unnecessarily, leaving it unavailable for investments.


I was quite sure that other mail managers experienced similar problems with their postage needs and was determined to find a better way. We researched the options and found a solution to our problem. Managing postage is now an efficient and cost effective process for Dairyland Power. Here's how we did it.


Centralized Automated Payment System (CAPS)

Our first step was enrolling in CAPS. The Centralized Auto-mated Payment System is administered by the Postal Service and is designed to make payments for all classes of mail easier. CAPS provides electronic alternatives to presenting checks and cash at the post office. You can establish either a single local account or a national account, which can be used to pay for mailings at multiple postal locations, eliminating the · need for maintaining accounts at numerous post offices. Transactions are funded through a centralized account, which consolidates your reports of mailing activity by location, account and other customer-defined ranges.


There are two options availablea centralized trust account and a centralized debit account. A CAPS account number is assigned to administer the funds. You can choose to incorporate all or some of your existing accounts in CAPS, such as permit imprint, business reply, postage due, etc.


For a trust account, you may deposit funds electronically via standard Automated Clearing House (ACH) banking mechanisms to the CAPS bank prior to mailing. Your CAPS account is then reduced automatically as your postage statements are processed.


With the centralized debit account, your designated bank account will be debited via ACH for the total of the days mailing on the next business day. With either type of account, software is available that allows mailers to access their detailed account information in real time to check balances, run reports and analyze mailing activity.


We chose to use a CAPS debit account. I downloaded an application on the Internet from the Postal Service's Web site. There were two forms to complete. The first is the basic application and the second is an authorization for funds transfer. I worked with our accounting department to ensure the correct bank and routing numbers were being submitted.


Once our application was approved (approximately two weeks), I was notified by the local post office. They refunded all monies currently in our accounts and began using the CAPS program immediately. Now, each time we take a permit imprint mailing to the post office, the money is deducted from our company account the next day. We continue to receive our 3,607 statements for each mailing. Every day, we also receive a statement of business-reply mail transactions that were processed and debited from our account.

We even use the CAPS account for some metered mailings. If we deposit a mailing and the mail acceptance clerk finds a discrepancy, rather than holding the mailing or requiring us to pick it up to add postage, the post office, with verbal authorization, simply deducts the additional amount from our CAPS account. CAPS also allows for payment of required annual fees via the centralized account.


At the end of the month, the post office sends us a report itemizing all transactions on our account. The reports are available more frequently, if desired and can also be downloaded from the CAPS Web site at www.caps.usps.gov.



Once we were established in the CAPS program, we needed to simplify our funding for postage meters. In the past, we were required to send a check to the Postal Service  Centralized Meter Licensing System seven to 10 days prior to needing funds. Even sending checks this far in advance, we experienced problems with the checks being lost, delayed or deposited into incorrect accounts.


A National Postal Forum business session introduced a new method for funding postage accounts called PostageNow. For meter resetting, your meter vendor must be contacted to get established in the program. I contacted our vendor, who refers to this program as Smartfunds ACH. It offers several different options for managing meter accounts, and again we selected ACH debit.


We completed the necessary application and forms and were soon ready to begin implementation. It's simple; we call a toll-free number and request an amount of money to be deposited in our meter account. The funds are then debited from our bank account the following day. The money is available for downloading into our meters within one hour.


Once the money is in our account, staff can reset any meter anytime with the desired dollar amount. There are no fees. After each transaction, the meter displays the amount of money remaining in the account. The staff is instructed to notify me when the account balance falls below a certain level so I can call and have more money deposited into the account. We then notify the accounting department to ensure the funds are available for debiting the following day.


Keeping sufficient funds in our postage accounts without tying up cash needlessly is no longer a problem. Using CAPS and PostageNow has eliminated the headaches of managing our postage.


Lynda Kemp is manager of Publication Services at Dairyland Power Cooperative in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. You can contact her by phone at 608-787-1314 or e-mail at ljk@dairynet.com. For more information on CAPS, visit www.usps.com. Click on Forms then select Centralized Automated Payments System. For more information on PostageNow, visit www.usps.com. Click on Business Center, then select PostageNow.