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Will your USPS packages arrive by Christmas? Here's how to find out

We're down to the wire on US Postal Service deliveries for the holidays. Learn the cutoff dates for the holiday season, and use USPS tracking tools to eliminate delivery guesswork.

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Holiday packages are always a delight... when they arrive on time.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Worries about US Postal Service slowdowns take on added dimensions of dread during the holiday season. Will your packages arrive on time for Christmas? Don't fret -- a few simple tools can eliminate the stress and guesswork of USPS holiday deliveries. 

First, the official holiday shipping deadlines, per USPS.com. These dates are the recommended ship-by dates for expected delivery before December 25 in the 48 contiguous states

  • Priority Mail: December 18
  • Priority Mail Express: December 23

That means Saturday is your final chance to send packages Priority Mail, and next Thursday, December 23 is the last day to send them Express.

If you're shipping to Alaska, Hawaii, military bases, or internationally, scroll down the holiday shipping deadlines FAQ on USPS.com to find the relevant cutoff dates. (The final day for Priority Mail to Hawaii was December 17; last day for Express is December 21. The final day for Priority Mail to Alaska is December 18; last day for Express is December 21.)

Once you've mailed your packages, you can monitor their delivery progress using the standard USPS Tracking app. Enter up to 35 tracking numbers (usually 20-22 digits long) from your USPS receipts into the tool to see exactly where each of them is located at any point in their delivery.

Also, if you're expecting holiday packages coming your way via postal service, the USPS has a new tracking tool that can help you track them.

Called Informed Delivery, the free USPS service can give you a heads-up when to expect your mail and even send you an image of the front of letters so you know what's coming -- say, if you're looking for your next child tax credit payment

Informed Delivery doesn't take pictures of your incoming packages, but it does track them, and will also let you add an electronic signature to receive packages when you're not home.

Read on to learn how to set up and use USPS Informed Delivery. For more about USPS, get the details on the postal service's delivery delays, the temporary rate increase for parcel delivery, and how to tell the USPS you've moved.

USPS Informed Delivery: Track letters straight to your mailbox

Informed Delivery is a free mail-tracking service from the USPS that automatically scans your incoming letters and can send you with an image each time something with your name on it is about to be delivered.

When the USPS runs mail through its automated sorting equipment, it creates a digital image of the front of all letter-size mail. Anyone who signs up for Informed Delivery can benefit from that information by asking USPS to notify you when each piece of mail bearing your name is on the way. Note that it can take three days to activate your account.

As part of the program, you'll receive an email every morning, Monday through Saturday, to notify you about mail being delivered to you. You'll also see a grayscale image of the letter's front. Informed Delivery has free apps for Android and iOS, too. 

Just be aware that signing up means you'll see all mail that's scanned by the post office. You can cancel the service at any time. Read on for details on how to sign up for Informed Delivery.

Track your packages from the post office, too

With Informed Delivery, you can check the delivery status of your packages and when they're scheduled to arrive. The post office doesn't capture an image of your package, however. You can use the service to create an electronic signature so you can receive packages when you're not at home.

USPS Informed Delivery: How to sign up

Informed Delivery has some limitations. For example, it will work with many residential and personal post office box addresses -- but not businesses. It also won't work for some residential buildings where USPS hasn't yet identified each unit. 

To check whether Informed Delivery is available in your area, head to the Postal Service's Informed Delivery page.

1. Tap Sign Up for Free.

2. Enter your mailing address and confirm that it'll work with the service; then accept the terms and conditions and tap Continue

3. On the next page, choose a username, password and security questions. Enter your contact information and tap Continue.

4. On the next page, you'll need to verify your identity. Tap Verify identity online if you want to receive a verification code on your phone or tap Request invitation code by mail if you want the USPS to mail you a code. You may also have the option to visit a post office to verify your identity in person.

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