Some of the links may be affiliate links, earning us a small commission if you decide to use them, allowing us to continue creating content. Read our FTC Disclosure

USPS “Processing Exception” What Does it Mean?

You’re expecting a delivery from USPS and have received a “Processing Exception” tracking update.

What does this mean exactly? Is your mail item delayed and is there anything you need to do?

Let’s take a look…

cropped SITE ICON

Summary: USPS Processing Exception

The “Processing Exception” status update from USPS is triggered when an issue has occurred during the automatic processing (i.e. sorting and dispatch) of a mail item. This can be caused by a number of reasons, including packaging and label issues, technical problems inside the facility, or a mis-sort. As a result, the mail item requires manual processing instead of normal, automatic delivery processing and this may cause a delay.

Guide: USPS Processing Exception

conveyor belt package

Note the last line of the summary above, “… this may cause a delay”. It is important to realize that USPS is warning the sender and recipient that the mail item “could” be delayed as a result of the processing exception. 

Similar to a FedEx Operational Delay, USPS will attempt to mitigate the delay and have the mail item physically managed and sent on its way as quickly as possible, (in theory at least).

What Kind of Delay is it?


Unfortunately, USPS is being annoyingly vague with the “Processing Exception” tracking update.

As with a number of alerts of this nature, it is used as a bit of a “catch-all” umbrella term.

As explained, fundamentally it means that your mail item requires manual processing (i.e. physically managed by a USPS staff member) rather than automatic delivery processing.

This of course slows down the normal progress of the mail item as it joins a queue of other items waiting to be physically checked, sorted, and dispatched.

However, what has caused the need for your mail to be physically managed by a human, is not specifically disclosed.

Here are a Few Potential Reasons…

damaged package
  • Label or packaging damage requiring human intervention
  • Technical issues during sorting requiring human intervention
  • Mail item mis-scanned or sorted/dispatched incorrectly (requiring… you get the picture)
  • Package contents need to be checked

Essentially, if an issue has occurred during normal mail processing and human intervention is required, you may end up seeing the “Processing Exception” tracking update.

How Long Can The Delays Last?

USPS delays

The duration of delays caused by USPS processing exceptions can vary widely depending on the specific nature of the issue.

Here are some guidelines for the delays you might expect:

Address Issues

  • If an address issue is quickly resolved with the correct information provided, the delay may be relatively short, typically a few days.
  • If there are difficulties in obtaining the correct address information, the delay could be longer, potentially extending to weeks.

Weather or Natural Disasters

stormy weather
  • Delays caused by severe weather or natural disasters can last as long as the adverse conditions persist. Once the weather improves and transportation routes are deemed safe, normal operations can resume. Expect a few days depending on the severity of the conditions.

Security or Customs Clearance

  • International shipments undergoing security screenings or customs clearance may experience delays that vary based on the efficiency of the customs process. This could range from a few days to several weeks, especially if additional documentation or inspections are required.

High Package Volume

high package volumes
  • During peak seasons, such as holidays, delays due to high package volume may last for several days. The USPS typically hires seasonal staff and implements measures to expedite processing during peak times.

Technical Issues

  • Delays caused by technical issues can vary based on the complexity of the problem. If the issue is quickly identified and resolved, the delay should be relatively short (i.e. 24 to 48 hours).

Transportation Issues

broken down usps truck
  • Transportation-related delays can vary depending on the nature of the issue. Minor delays due to vehicle breakdowns may be resolved within a day, while more significant logistics issues could extend the delay for several days.

It’s important to note that these are general estimates, and actual delays can be influenced by a combination of factors.

The important issue is to keep an eye on your tracking so that you know when the mail item is moving again, (and be able to take steps if it doesn’t).

USPS “Processing Exception” – Is There Anything You Can Do?

shrug Processing Exception Other Delay

Due to the fact this alert is triggered after USPS has encountered a problem with its own processing infrastructure, there is actually very little you can do when you receive this update.

The onus is on USPS to rectify the situation so that the mail item can continue its transit journey.

That being said, both parties (i.e. sender and recipient) should keep a close eye on the USPS tracking page for any further updates.

In cases where package damage, incorrect address details used, or restricted contents, USPS will either contact the sender with specific details or send an alert with information on the required steps.

To ensure that the situation is solved, the relevant party should act quickly to any such notification/s.

Tracking Stuck on USPS “Processing Exception”

road block

If your tracking is stuck on this update with no follow-up alert you should contact USPS here. If the mail item is an international delivery you should head here.

You can also contact your local post office if the item has reached that stage of its journey.

You should be able to discern the approximate location of the mail item by looking at the update that preceded the “Processing Exception” alert.

Does USPS Offer Refunds After a Processing Exception?

usps refunds

Whether USPS offers refunds for services affected by processing exceptions depends on the specific circumstances and the service level chosen.

Here are some points to consider:

Service Level

Different USPS services come with different levels of guarantees.

Priority Mail Express, for example, typically comes with a money-back guarantee, where a refund or credit may be provided if the delivery is not made within the specified timeframe.

Other services may not have the same guarantees.

Reason for Exception

The reason for the processing exception matters.

If the exception is due to a fault on the part of USPS, such as a delay caused by their operations or systems, there may be a basis for a refund.

Refund Policies

usps refund policies

USPS has specific refund policies outlined in its terms and conditions.

These policies may change over time, so it’s important to check the most current information on the official USPS website or contact USPS customer service for the latest details.

Filing a Claim

In some cases, customers may need to file a claim with USPS to request a refund. This is typically done if a service with a money-back guarantee does not meet the specified delivery timeframe.

Communication with USPS

girl on phone

If you experience a processing exception and are concerned about the delivery of your mail or package, it’s advisable to contact USPS customer service promptly.

They can provide information about the specific situation and guide you on any potential refund or claim processes.

It’s important to note that USPS may not provide refunds for circumstances beyond their control, such as weather-related disruptions or situations considered force majeure.

Final Words

Overall, this tracking update is used by USPS to inform you that the mail item will potentially be delayed to due a processing problem, (exception).

In most cases, human intervention is required on the part of USPS staff in order to get the mail back underway.

If the tracking becomes stuck for more than 2-3 business days, you should contact USPS to find out more.

Leave a Comment