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The United States Postal Service has made some changes for the busy holiday season, which will impact everything from your holiday shopping and shipping, to sending holiday cards to friends and family. 

USPS on Oct. 1 launched new "service standards" for first-class mail (letters, small packages, bills and tax documents). Now customers throughout the country can expect first-class mail to get to its destination in 1-5 days. Previously, the timeframe was 1-3 days. Local mail will not be affected, with the service standard still two days.

Most people won't notice much of a difference, with the Postal Service saying it will impact about 39% of first-class mail, mostly mail that has to travel longer distances. This means people in rural areas will likely be impacted the most. 

So, if you want your holiday cards to get to their destination prior to the holiday, it's best to send them a little earlier this year. USPS also recommends anyone who is sending mail long distances to send those letters and packages early. 

In addition, the Postal Service is temporarily hiking prices on packages for the peak holiday season this year. That means the cost to send retail and commercial packages will be anywhere from 25 cents to $5 more expensive than before, depending on the type of service you're buying. (The heavier the package, the more expensive the increase — you can find the pricing for every USPS service online here.)

This will impact everyone who ships packages, including those who send gifts for the holidays. People who do a lot of online shopping may also see an increase in shipping costs for the next few months as well. 

This price hike is only temporary though. It went into effect on Oct. 3 and will be in place until Dec. 26, USPS says. 

However, USPS plans to revise its rates more frequently going forward, with the possibility of prices going up twice a year as the Postal Service works to limit its budget shortfall, the Washington Post said

The USPS is projected to see $160 billion in losses over the next 10 years.

These changes are expected to help the USPS save money. It's part of the Postal Service's 10-year plan. 

Slowing mail by transporting it on the ground instead of by plane could help cut costs and lead to more reliability. USPS says these new service standards for first-class mail and newspapers will also further improve service consistency and reliability, which has been improving in recent months after struggling in 2020

And raising prices for packages, even temporarily, will bring USPS "in line with competitive practices," a news release said

"These temporary rates will keep the Postal Service competitive while providing the agency with the revenue to cover extra costs in anticipation of peak-season volume surges similar to levels experienced in 2020," USPS said, noting the additional revenue will depend on the volume of packages shipped during the holiday peak season (Oct. 3-Dec. 26). 

In addition to introducing new service standards and raising shipping prices, the Postal Service says it continues to prepare for the higher delivery demands that are expected for the holiday season. 

Last year, more people took advantage of online shopping and shipping gifts during the COVID-19 pandemic, which could continue this year as the highly contagious delta variant continues to keep case counts high. 

USPS is working to hire an additional 40,000 seasonal employees and is leasing 7.5 million square feet of space to help manage the growth in packages that are sent through the Postal Service. It is also installing new processing equipment and package sorting equipment to accommodate higher volumes of items. 

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