The U.S. Postal Service announced recently that, in an effort to avoid filing for bankruptcy, it will raise prices on its most popular services (priority and express mail), as well as on standard first class stamps (up to 45 cents each starting January 22, 2012).
The USPS debt problems highlight some important differences between bankruptcy filings for individuals and businesses. Here’s a look at what you can learn from the USPS and why you may be in a better position if you’re interested in avoiding a bankruptcy filing of your own.
Shedding Expensive Baggage
When individuals see their debt spiraling out of control, they can usually take at least some meaningful action to reduce the total amount they owe – or at least to stop the ever-increasing financial burden they carry.
But because of the oversight Congress provides to the USPS, the nation’s postal system isn’t quite as free to slough off its highest costs. For example:
- Underperforming post offices: To save money, the USPS has proposed shutting down post offices that don’t earn sufficient profit to merit staying open. In other words, the USPS wants to operate like an ordinary business or individual, eliminating its branches that cost money to operate but don’t bring in enough in return. However, Congress must approve any such shut-downs, and it has not yet ruled on USPS closures.
- Six-day delivery: Like extra cable channels or a too-expensive car lease for individuals, six-day delivery has been cited as one of the major expenses dragging down USPS finances. While officials from the Postal Service hope to cut home delivery to five days per week, they have not yet received the okay from Congress, and so are unable to take this cost-saving step.
- Expensive healthcare and pensions: When municipalities file for bankruptcy, one of the main debt-cutting measures available to them is the re-negotiation of contracts with workers. In many cases, municipalities are able to save serious money by cutting benefits they pay out in pensions, healthcare, and other benefits. But the USPS has not yet been able to make such negotiations with its workers, again because of inaction in Congress.
Not Enough to Prevent Bankruptcy?
The Postal Service’s rate increases, set to take place in late January, could increase its income substantially, but many analysts predict that price hikes alone will not allow the USPS to avoid bankruptcy.
Without action from Congress allowing it to make meaningful cuts in its current services, the USPS has claimed that it could need bankruptcy protection as early as next September. If the USPS is allowed to reorganize (either in bankruptcy or without its help), the business has a decent chance of succeeding: its competitors FedEx and UPS have reportedly both achieved modest growth even during the economic downturn.