While this seems like a simple, straightforward question to answer, the reality is it is one of those “it depends” answers. It actually can get complicated, so to keep things basic we will go through the differences between the USPS type of post office box and the UPS type. There are other companies that offer post office box services, but most will be a variation of these businesses.
To begin with, you need to determine whether your purpose for renting a box is personal or business. Most people rent a post office box because of security while businesses require both security and convenience. For businesses, a post office box can be used to establish a more professional look to customers and present an appearance of stability.
Post office boxes come in many sizes, and the larger the box you need, the more you will be paying. If you are considering one for personal use, you might find one of its biggest advantages is that if you don’t get a lot of mail you can stop by every week or so and not worry about something getting lost or stolen. If this is the case, you don’t have to spend a lot of money because there are very small boxes that are designed only to fit letter sized mail. On the rare occasion that you are sent a package, the post office generally will notify you the package is waiting and hold it for a short period of time before returning it.
As a business a USPS box can be very large and accommodate medium sized packages. Large quantities of letter sized mail are put into a USPS sack and you are notified that it is waiting to be picked up. The advantage here is you can focus on your business and stop at the post office at your earliest convenience to sort through the mail.
Depending on where you live and where the post office boxes are located, you may or may not have 24 hour access to your mail. Post offices may lock the facility in areas where crime is a problem, usually limiting access between slightly extended business hours such as 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. This can be a problem for businesses since working late and not having access to the mail can hurt the business. For personal use, restricted hours are rarely a major issue.
One of the negatives about having a post office box from the USPS is that there are companies that will not deliver mail of any type to a post office box. Before filling out the paperwork to apply for a post office box, check through your regular mail and see if any of those companies restricts delivery to your physical address (if you have one). The majority of the time this restriction applies to package delivery, though there are financial institutions such as banks that may also have such restrictions.
Now if you decide on using a UPS post office box for delivery, is that the same as a USPS box? Technically yes, but because the business sending you correspondence will be sending it to a physical address, 123 Main Street, “Suite” 123, they will not know it is actually a post office box. It is a bit deceptive, and you might decide to have critical mail such as financial or legal correspondence sent to your physical address.
So we now come to the price differences. The numbers don’t lie, so you will be paying between 3 and 4 times as much for a UPS box than a USPS one. A 3 month rental will cost you $35 for the smallest USPS box compared to $90 for the UPS version. On the largest end of the spectrum, a USPS box will cost $190 for a 3 month rental, the UPS box $534. The key deposit for the USPS version will be $1, while the UPS box will charge you $5 and add setup fees and 24 hour access privileges to the final cost.
To spend about $120 a year for a small USPS box means you should have a good reason for the expense. Since most people no longer get checks in the mail (Direct Deposit is the norm) it is difficult to think of a reason to rent a box. On the other hand, business have good reasons to open up a box, and the annual cost of the box is deductible as it is necessary for the normal course of business. In both cases, one of the biggest considerations is the volume of weekly mail you expect to receive. The larger the volume of mail, the more one can justify paying the extra money.
Money isn’t the only reason in making the final decision, but taking a drive to the post office every week to find 2 letters in your box hardly seems worth it as a businessperson or an average renter or homeowner. If the twice a year package delivered to your address doesn’t fit in the mailbox, the post office will send you a notification instructing you where to pick it up. While renting a post office box can have its advantages, it should be something borne out of necessity rather than desire.