Posts Tagged ‘NCOA’

Meeting USPS Requirements for NCOA Live Change-of-Address Processing

Every year, over 40 million people in the United States move and change their addresses with the US Postal Service. Keeping your contact data assets up-to-date with these changes can lead to substantial cost savings for your marketing and customer contact activities, including:

  • Qualifying for lower mailing rates for Standard and First Class mail
  • Meeting the USPS Move Update requirement for Marketing Mail
  • Reducing the costs of sending mail to bad addresses
  • Improving deliverability by up to 400%

Perhaps most important of all, when you automate your change-of-address processing with Service Objects’ DOTS NCOA Live product, your addresses are automatically standardized and corrected BEFORE being processed for change-of-address, resulting in much higher match rates.

However, because the USPS has very specific rules in place for the use of its NCOA services by end-users, there is some assembly required for using our NCOA Live service compared with most of our automated data quality services. This article is designed to walk you through these steps, as well as show you how we can help.

1) Sign a PAF form

What is a PAF? It stands for Processing Acknowledgement Form – a form required by USPS before you can access their NCOA database (including through our software). This step is pretty straightforward, and it provides accountability for who is accessing the USPS’s change-of-address data.

A link to a copy of this form can be found here. Note that you must list a full ZIP+4 code for your business, as well as, a NAICS business code. This form gets sent to us, and in turn we provide a copy to our NCOA licensee, who must keep it on file for the USPS. It also must be updated once a year.

2) Set up a JobID for each week

Every week, the USPS requires setting up an open JobID, which keeps track of the change-of-address lookups that you run. Opening a new JobID requires the following:

  • Building an array of 100-500 addresses (a minimum of 100 addresses are required to create the initial job)
  • Creating a personalized JobID, which is an alpha-numeric string of up to 50 characters
    • Our recommended format, like, SO20190114163904, is discussed in detail here.
  • Submitting the addresses, JobID, and license key to the “RunNCOA Live” operation

Each new JobID remains valid for one week, expiring at 11:50 pm Sunday evening. Once you’ve set it up for the week and done your initial run, subsequent runs can be anywhere from 1 to 500 records.

At the end of the week, this JobID closes, and the USPS updates their internal change-of-address data that powers our service. The following week, another NCOA Live operation can be initiated with a new JobID following the steps listed above.

Sound a little involved? Don’t worry: we’ll help you set this up and maintain it going forward. Just contact our technical team and we’ll be happy to help.

3) Plan ahead for bigger runs

As we mentioned above, your first request for NCOA Live each week must have a minimum of 100 records, and after that, each subsequent request can be for any number of records up to 500. But what if you have a lot more to process?

This situation brings up another advantage of working with NCOA Live: this service can be used to set up parallel requests for your larger jobs. Here as well, talk with our friendly technical team and we’ll walk you through the process.

A little planning can create a large benefit

As you can see, there are a few steps involved in using our NCOA Live so that you are meeting the USPS’s requirements for automated change of address processing. But once you get set up, the cost savings in lower postage rates, improved deliverability and fewer bad mailing addresses can really add up quickly.

Have no fear – we are experts at this and will help you through the entire set up process. It is what we do!

Text on blue background - Frequently Asked Questions

NCOA Live FAQ: Your Change of Address Questions Answered

Our DOTS NCOA Live service is a real-time API that compares your contact data with the USPS’ National Change of Address (NCOA) database, which contains address data for the roughly 40 million Americans who move each year. It works directly with the United States Postal Service’s NCOALink service, enabling you to maintain up-to-date consumer and business mailing addresses, and improving deliverability and mailing accuracy.

Due to some specific requirements of the USPS, this service works differently than most of our other services. This blog answers some of your most frequently asked questions about NCOA Live.

1. NCOALink Processing Acknowledgement Form (PAF)

What is a PAF, and why is it necessary?

One thing that sets NCOA Live apart from other services is that you can’t just plug in code and start using it, which is true for any change of address service. First, you’ll need to review the USPS NCOALink Information Package and acknowledge that you understand the terms of the service. This acknowledgment – designed to separate spammers from legitimate business users – is requested using a simple form known as the Processing Acknowledgement Form (PAF), a copy of which is linked here.

From the USPS, “The collection of information on this Processing Acknowledgement Form (PAF) is required by the Privacy Act of 1974. The United States Postal Service® (USPS®) requires that each NCOALink Licensee have a completed NCOALink PAF for each of their NCOALink customers prior to providing the NCOALink service. The Licensee is also required by the USPS to retain a copy of the completed form for each of its customers and to obtain an updated PAF from each of its customers at minimum once per year. Any signature upon this PAF shall be considered valid for all purposes and have the same effect whether it is an ink-signed hardcopy document or equivalent alternative.”

In short, this form is essentially an acknowledgment with the USPS that both your company and Service Objects will adhere to their standards.

Can a Service Objects’ employee fill out the form for you?

Unfortunately not. We are also required to send this form back to you, the client, in order to have any updates made. It is important to remember that a new PAF is required for each calendar year. Please review the following tips to help avoid some common errors and get you started using the web service as soon as possible:

  • Ensure that the address you fill in is deemed deliverable by the USPS. To validate your address you can use either the Service Objects DOTS Address Validation – US web service or the USPS ZIP code lookup page.
    • A Delivery Point Validation (DPV) score of 1 from Address Validation – US indicates a perfectly deliverable address.
    • A DPV Confirmation Indicator of ‘Y’ from the USPS indicates the same thing.
  • Double check to make sure you’ve filled in your full 10 digit phone number along with your industry’s NAICS code.
  • Don’t forget to provide your signature.

2. JobIds

What is a JobId?

A JobId is a string of 50 characters or fewer that your transactions are linked to. You create a Job by sending 100 addresses, all at once, to a brand new JobId of your choosing. You can make the JobId any string you like so long as you’ve never used it before, it has less than 50 characters, and it does not contain any of the following characters:

\ / * : ? ” < >

What is the best format for a JobId?

We recommend using something like a company abbreviation along with a timestamp. For example, a Service Objects’ JobId might look like this:


The above example uses a format of ‘Company Abbreviation + YYYY + MM + DD + h + m + s’.

Why do JobIds close every week?

The USPS releases new NCOALink data every week and requires that we use the newest data within a few days of receipt. So, every week we close the jobs that are running against the older data, update the data, and start fresh. This ensures that you are using the latest change of address data available.

3. Handling the Response Object

How do I parse the response?

There are two main checks that you should do before digging into the response object. These checks will ensure that you are not looking for data that does not exist.

  • The first is a check for an Error object at the root level of the service response. Errors within this top level are often related to higher level errors such as a license key expiration, a transaction cap, or an incorrect JobId.
  • The second check is within each of the child nodes for another Error object. These errors are related to more address specific issues and will help provide insight into why an input address may be incorrect. After the error checks are complete, you are free to dig into the rest of the response to see if a change of address record was returned.

4. Change of Address (COA) Information

Why didn’t the service return a COA?

The NCOA service will not always be able to return a change of address for various reasons. Here are some of the more likely ones:

  • The Individual/Family/Business moved without providing a COA to USPS.
  • The name as entered does not match USPS data.
    • For example, a business may have an official name that differs from the name they commonly use, a family name may have changed, or the name may have been entered in such a way that a match could not be made.
  • The address does not match USPS data.
    • For example, a business may have submitted a COA for a physical location that differs from their official mailing address.

The USPS recognizes that in some scenarios their data is lacking, and matches are not always being found when they could be. In January 2018, the USPS shared plans to improve the service, with a date of completion planned for November 2020.

Even though a change of address is not always available and cannot be guaranteed, you should still use the service to quickly filter through all of the return addresses in an effort to retrieve a COA match in order to help retain a contact.

How can I increase the number of addresses the USPS can check for COA?

One of the ways that Service Objects helps improve the USPS address match rates, resulting in increased accurate COA address returns, is to validate and standardize the addresses being submitted beforehand. This ensures that you have the highest number of addresses available to be checked.

We have a number of address validation services that verify and correct to USPS standards.

  • For simple errors and corrections, Address Validation – US will correct and standardize mailing addresses to USPS standards, increasing their match rate.
  • For addresses that cannot be corrected by the Address Validation-US, we recommend using DOTS Address Detective, which uses real-time fuzzy logic to correct fatal addressing errors, ultimately verifying and correcting them to USPS standards.

Contact our team if you have questions about which service is right for your business.