Since it costs money to produce and mail marketing materials, most of the junk mail you receive does not end up in your mailbox by accident. Marketing companies target customers with junk mail based on information that leads them to believe you would be a good candidate for their offers. The companies that send junk mail use information such as credit history, credit card balances, mortgage information, and public records to find targets for their marketing materials. They also buy lists of potential customers that have recently purchased a certain type of item or signed up for a catalog in a product category.
What does the type of junk mail you receive say about you?
You have high net worth
If the information available to marketers such as home value in your neighborhood or length of your credit history indicates that you have significant net worth or may be nearing retirement, you may get offers related to investment and retirement planning offers, invitations to free dinner events to learn about investment services, and offers to subscribe to investment newsletters.
You have good credit
People with good credit scores tend to get the best credit offers. If you have a high credit score, you might receive offers for rewards and travel credit cards, preapproved credit card offers with favorable terms, and balance transfer offers with low fees. (See also: 10 Questions to Ask Before Accepting a Credit Card Offer)
You have poor credit or high debt
Credit offers with the least favorable terms are targeted to those with lower credit scores, since these people are more likely to take an offer with worse terms. Those with poor credit will typically get applications for credit cards with low “teaser” interest rates that go up, debt consolidation offers, and applications for credit cards with high interest rates, and high annual fees, as well.
You shop a lot
Many types of mail order purchases, online purchases, and orders from TV infomercials will get your name on catalog mailing lists that will be used to try to sell you related things, or even unrelated things.
You live in a good neighborhood
Some types of junk mail are sent to all residences in particular neighborhoods that are seen to be a good fit for what they are selling. You’ll see lawn care and pest control services, high-end security alarm installation, and house cleaning deals addressed to you.
You’re fixing up your house
Once you request information about one home improvement item, you’ll likely start to get other offers as well, such as big ticket home improvement installations for doors, windows, siding, roofing, remodeling, and coupons from home improvement stores.
You bought a new car
If you buy a car from a dealer, your name can end up on a variety of mailing lists. Based on the date you purchased your car, you can get junk mail anticipating your next car purchase three or four years later. You’ll get extended warranty offers, invitations for test drives, and contests you can enter if you stop by the car dealership.
You’re an athlete or sports fan
If you buy sporting equipment by mail order or at a sporting goods store with delivery, your name and address can start to circulate on marketing lists for sporting goods, or fishing, hunting, and camping products.
Or if you order tickets to watch your favorite sports team in action or sign up for a fan club, marketing companies will try to sell you other items related to your team, such as fan merchandise or event ticket offers.
You’re a globe-trotter
Frequent travelers are a classic target for marketing via junk mail. If you’re often seeing the world, once you get home you’ll find vacation package offers, hotel club invitations, and frequent flyer program info in your mailbox. (See also: The Best Travel Credit Card Perks Beyond Points and Miles)
What are the best junk mail offers?
While most junk mail really is junk — either promotions for stuff you don’t need, or offers that aren’t a good deal anyway — sometimes the market research behind the junk mail works out, and you get an offer for a product you need at a price that makes sense, such as:
Credit card offers
Balance transfer offers
Bank bonus offers
Coupons for products that you buy regularly
Can you sell your junk mail?
There is a lot of information that can be gleaned by studying junk mail, so much so that you can actually get paid to send in your junk mail for analysis. A company called Small Business Knowledge Center (SBKC) processes junk mail to identify marketing strategies and provide competitive intelligence to their corporate clients. (See also: Here’s How to Earn $170 a Year With Your Junk Mail)
How to get less junk mail
Many people don’t find value in getting junk mail and would prefer not to waste the paper used to print it, or the time dealing with it. There are some actions you can take to cut down the amount of junk mail you receive.
OptOutPrescreen allows you to opt out of preapproved credit card offers. You will be asked to provide your social security number, but after you opt out, your name will not be reported in lists provided by the credit reporting companies to credit card marketers.
DMAchoice is a service run by the Data & Marketing Association (DMA) that allows you to cut down on the amount of direct mailings and catalogs you get. You can use their online tools to select which types of marketing materials you would like to receive — and which you don’t want.
If you are plagued by too many catalogs filling your mailbox, Catalog Choice is another resource to opt out of unwanted mailings. They will send opt out requests to merchants on your behalf for specific catalogs that you no longer want to get.