Why are some envelopes marked "Place Stamp Here"?

Dear Matthew Alice:

I was paying my bills when a question occurred to me that only you could answer. Why is it that envelopes that come with bills are always marked "Place Stamp Here" or some such message? Do the companies think we think they are going to pay for the mailing?

-- Greg, San Diego

You're amazed that some sorehead would intentionally mail a Visa payment without a stamp? That someone would be so peeved at the finance charges he'd figure, "They can make me pay the bill, but they can't make me pay the postage"? Why, even Matthew Alice has had that cheap revenge fantasy.

Those instructions on the envelopes are put there precisely because people love sticking it to the gas company, the phone company, department stores, etc., by mailing their bills without stamps. Guess they have visions of their creditors shelling out thousands each week in postage-due payments. Well, fat chance. Ordinarily the postal service intercepts the naked envelopes and whips them back into your mailbox, politely requesting that you pay up. And if you leave off your return address hoping to foil that plot, the P.O. will just set your envelope aside until they have time to open it and find your address on your check or bill stub. And then they whip it right back into your mailbox. In either case, your payment is late, and, as usual, all you've done is shoot yourself in the foot.

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