You might think junk mail would be a thing of the past by now. Alas, the volume of unsolicited mail still seems downright 20th century.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to stem its flow to your mailbox.
There is no single action you can take to halt all junk mail forever, but taking the following steps can drastically decrease the amount of unwanted mail that reaches your mailbox.
1. Stop prescreened offers
If you receive but don’t want preapproved offers for credit cards or insurance — also known as prescreened offers — visit OptOutPrescreen.com and opt out of these offers. The website is maintained by major credit-reporting companies.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act allows credit-reporting companies to share your information with lenders and insurers for the purpose of prescreened offers. But this federal law also gives you the right to opt out of prescreened offers, as we detail in “The Secret to Stopping Unwanted Credit Card Mail for Good.”
2. Opt out with your financial institutions
Federal law also allows financial companies like banks to share their customers’ information with certain third parties for specific purposes.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) details this on its Money Smart website. Privacy notices that you should receive from your financial institutions at least annually also detail the institutions’ information-sharing practices as well as opt-out instructions.
Federal privacy laws give you the right to opt out of some but not all sharing of your information by financial companies, meaning you can limit the extent of that sharing.
The FDIC explains:
“These laws balance your right to privacy with financial companies’ need to provide information for normal business purposes. … [Y]ou cannot opt out and completely stop the flow of all your personal financial information.”
If you receive a privacy notice from a financial company, follow the opt-out directions on the notice. Otherwise, the FDIC notes that you can contact an institution and ask for instructions on how to opt out.
3. Fine-tune your direct mail
The Data & Marketing Association (DMA), a trade group formerly known as the Direct Marketing Association, maintains a consumer website called DMAchoice.org to help consumers manage the direct mail they receive.
According to the site, direct mail includes:
- Credit offers
- Magazine offers
- Other mail offers
“You can request to start or stop receiving mail from an entire category or opt out from all,” the website says.
Registering with DMAchoice.org is not free, though. It entails a $2 processing fee.
Alternatively, you can register by mail, but you will have fewer options for customizing your direct mail and it’ll take longer. This route also will cost you more, $3, unless you include a printout of the online form.
4. Sign up with CatalogChoice
To take advantage of CatalogChoice’s services, you have to register with its website, but the nonprofit aims to make the rest of the process easy. As its website explains:
“Gather the unwanted catalogs and other junk mail that clutter your home or office. Search for the sender, and submit the opt—out request. We’ll take it from there, acting on your behalf to complete your opt-outs while protecting your consumer rights.”
You can even go through CatalogChoice to cancel junk mail that’s being sent to previous occupants of your home.
5. Shield student education records
If you or anyone in your household is in school, request that the institution not disclose what’s known as “directory” information about you or the student in your household.
This information includes a student’s name, address and phone number, among other personal information. And federal law — specifically, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — allows schools to disclose it without the student’s consent unless the student requests otherwise.
Note that FERPA applies to all schools that receive funds under certain U.S. Department of Education programs, according to the department. That includes colleges; I filled out a do-not-disclose form under FERPA the last time I took courses at a local university.
So, whatever institution you or anyone in your household attends, ask about its procedure for protecting the student’s directory information under FERPA. It can vary from one school to another.
The Education Department notes:
“[S]chools must tell parents and eligible students about directory information and allow parents and eligible students a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them. Schools must notify parents and eligible students annually of their rights under FERPA. The actual means of notification (special letter, inclusion in a PTA bulletin, student handbook, or newspaper article) is left to the discretion of each school.”