The price of stamps and postal services will increase Jan. 8. Regular first-class stamps, now 37 cents, will cost 39 cents.

Cullman Postmaster Terry Pinkard said while the U.S. Postal Service will finish the year in the black, Congress has mandated that the Postal Service build a $3.1 billion escrow account.

"We actually do not need an increase but the public law requires us to," Pinkard said. This will be the first increase in postage prices since 2002.

Other mailing options, including express and priority mail, will also become more costly by an average of 5.4 percent.

The new 39-cent stamps and 2-cent stamps to cover the difference are on sale now at post offices and postal vending machines, and postal clerks are reminding customers of the change.

"We have ordered about 150,000 of the 2-cent stamps," Pinkard said. "We don't plan to run out. The reason we're pushing them is so everyone can go ahead and buy stamps now instead of everyone waiting until the last minute."

International postage prices are also rising for the first time since 2001, Pinkard said.

"We take a lot of pride in the fact that we've gone since June 2002 and not asked for a rate increase, considering what's happened with gas prices," Pinkard said.

Pinkard also said if customers wonder why stamps are priced at non-round numbers like 39 cents, they should consider the impact of rounding up to 40 cents on companies that send mass mailings.

"The reason we end up with oddball amounts — 2 cents makes sense for us from an operational standpoint. We'd certainly like it be 40 but we don't need the extra cent," he said. "One cent for a stamp might not make much difference to you or me, but to a lot of companies, 1 cent of postage represents millions of dollars."

For more information, postal customers can visit the Postal Service's

Web site at http://www.usps.com/ratecase or call (800) ASK-USPS.

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