We’ve written about using the Do Not Call list and blocking unwanted phone calls, but did you know there are ways to prevent unwanted postal mail as well?
It starts with opting out of prescreened offers.
Prescreened credit and insurance offers: what’s good about them?
Many companies “prescreen” consumers to make special offers. This is based on information in your credit report. The company is usually a credit card lender, mortgage refinance company, or insurance company, and they’re looking for new customers who are likely to qualify for their services.
This prescreening ensures you don’t get loan offers that are a waste of your time, and helps the lender avoid having to review and reject loan applications from customers who don’t meet their minimum credit requirements.
Besides tailoring the offers to the consumers who qualify or might benefit most from them, this prescreening doesn’t involve any kind of “hit” or hard inquiry to your credit report, so there is no negative credit impact when you are selected to receive this kind of offer.
What’s bad about prescreened offers?
In short, it’s a lot more unwanted mail, especially for people who are working hard to improve their credit.
When we help people and they see their credit scores improve, they’re more likely to qualify for these kinds of credit offers, and it’s annoying for all kinds of reasons. There’s a reason the phrase “junk mail” was coined almost 100 years ago.
Besides being bad for the environment and wasting your time, prescreened offers are a security risk.
The lender has already checked your credit before sending you the written offer. So if a thief fishes that offer out of your trash, fills in a few missing pieces, they could more easily obtain credit in your name.
Stopping prescreened offers helps protect you from identity theft.
In addition to these concerns, prescreened offers represent temptation to borrow. We also help people eliminate credit card debt, and the last thing we want is to see people swimming in unwanted credit card offers.
These prescreened offers might even be legitimately good if you read all of the fine print, but ultimately, it’s all more debt that lenders are trying to get you to incur.
We think it’s better to just say no and avoid getting these offers in the first place. If you really need a new credit card, it’s better for you to do the work, research and compare offers, and come up with what’s best for you.
How to stop getting prescreened offers
To stop receiving prescreened offers, call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8388). Or, you can visit optoutprescreen.com. You may opt out of offers for a period of 5 years, or permanently through that website.
There is a way to opt out by postal mail, but you must provide your Social Security Number as part of the request, and we think it’s more secure to provide that on the secure web site than through the mail.
(Note: with this, or any site we reference, ensure you’re in the right place by looking for the padlock icon in your web browser’s address bar, or for the “s” in “https://”. The “s” means you are at a secured site; you should never provide any personal information to an unsecured web site. We also discussed in our article “Cyber Monday Security Tips: Shop Safer Online”.)
You may only “opt out” for yourself. To opt out for another person, you must be legally authorized to do so. Once you opt out, the request goes into effect within 5 days, but can take several months for the marketing companies to remove you from their mailing lists.
How to stop receiving other types of junk mail
Remember, this 888-5-OPTOUT service applies to prescreened offers. Companies who don’t engage in this prescreening will still send you unsolicited mail.
Register with DMAchoice
To opt out of other kinds of commercial mail, another option is to use DMAchoice, an expansion of an online tool developed in the 70s by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) in the 70s. DMA is now a part of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA).
You can register with the DMA at dmachoice.org. This will reduce the unwanted postal mail from member companies who follow the DMA and AMA member guidelines.
According to their website, “direct mail is divided into four categories: Credit Offers, Catalogs, Magazine Offers and Other Mail Offers. You can request to start or stop receiving mail from an entire category or opt out from all.”
Again, it won’t stop all of the unwanted offers, but direct marketers have little reason not to comply, as mailing offers is costly and you’re saving them money by telling them in advance that you’re not interested. It’s not like email spam or robocalls, where it costs very little to flood millions of people with unwanted communication.
How much does it cost to register with DMAchoice?
Registering with DMAchoice isn’t free; it currently costs:
- $2 to register online, or
- $3 to register by postal mail.
Stop Junk Mail with Catalog’s Choice
Another free alternative to DMAchoice is Catalog Choice, a non-profit dedicated to “stop junk mail for good.” You can sign up and they will send merchants your catalog opt-out request on your behalf. They do, however, still recommend that you sign up for DMAchoice as well to take your name off of prospecting lists.
Unsubscribe from Valpak coupons
Another option to stop receiving unwanted mail is to unsubscribe with Valpak. If you don’t want to receive those blue envelopes stuffed with ads and coupons, you may want to submit a mailing list removal request.
What about stopping political junk mail?
Unfortunately, political organizations don’t have strict obligations to follow when sending out junk mail and ads.
While it’s time consuming, it’s worth looking at unwanted postcards and pamphlets for a number you can contact to opt out of future mailings. While not required to provide an opt out number, many will include one on the marketing material. You can simply call the number and request to be removed from their list.
So you’ve opted out – now what?
None of these mechanisms will stop local businesses from mailing you, or charities from reaching out, but they should reduce the amount of junk mail you get, and keep you from seeing so many offers for new loans and credit cards.
But maybe you’ve already responded to too many credit card offers and need help getting your finances under control. Luckily, we’re here to help.