I recently bought a relatively expensive acoustic-electric guitar on Ebay. I’m not a fan of buying something as personal as an acoustic guitar without having played it first. But I had been in the market for several months, and I was frustrated because I wasn’t able to find the guitar I was looking for at a price I was willing to pay. So I took a leap of faith, and bought a guitar based on a few pictures and a couple emails with the owner. The deal looked good, so I pulled the trigger (it was a buy-it-now deal, not a traditional auction).
I was excited to receive the guitar, and immediately unpacked it to check it out. (The weather and humidity were both moderate, which is important for acoustic guitars, since extreme temperatures or humidity can damage solid wood. If the weather were very hot, cold, or humid, I would have left the guitar in the box overnight before opening it, so the temperature and humidity would have a chance to acclimate).
The guitar looked nice on first inspection—it was a little dirty, and the strings were crusty, but those were minor issues, even on a thousand dollar guitar. Strings can be changed, and guitars can be cleaned and polished. The guitar was reasonably in tune, so I strummed it for awhile, then decided to really give it the once-over. That was when I noticed some cracks where the binding attaches to the top and bottom of the guitar, and an inch long crack above the input jack on the base of the guitar. And I was terribly disappointed.
I immediately contacted the seller via Ebay to verify the guitar didn’t have those issues when he mailed it, and to verify he insured the guitar when he shipped it. The seller verified both issues. The guitar was well-packaged when I received it, so it looks like it was up to me to file an insurance claim with the US Postal Service to rectify the issue. I was ready for a fight, and a bureaucratic nightmare. Thankfully, the process was relatively quick and easy. And I received a check from the US Postal Service in the amount of the anticipated repairs, and the cost of the shipping. I’ll walk you through the process of how I made the claim.
Filing an Insurance Claim with USPS
Filing a claim is pretty easy, especially if you do it online, which is the preferred method according to the Post Office worker I spoke with. He said online claims are processed more quickly and accurately than paper claims filed at the Post Office, or through the mail. Here are the items you will need to file your claim, with more details below (source):
- Original packaging
- Estimate of Repair Cost
- Evidence of Value
- Official Claim form (when not filing online)
- Original mailing receipt and proof of insurance, if available
Keep all your packaging, including the outer box, packing material, etc. You will need to bring this to a US Post Office to have the Post Office workers inspect the box and shipping material for damage and the ensure the item was adequately packed. In my case, the guitar was shipped in a heavy duty cardboard box designed specifically for shipping guitars (it was actually the same box used by the manufacturer of my guitar, so it was quite sturdy). In addition, the guitar was shipped inside a hard shell case, and the hard case was wrapped with bubble wrap and placed inside the large shipping box. It was adequately packaged.
After I entered my insurance claim, the USPS sent me a letter instructing me to take the letter with my claim number and the original shipping materials to a US Post Office so they could inspect the shipping materials. There was some obvious damage to the box the guitar was shipped in. It looked like it had been dropped on one corner.
Get a professional estimate of the repair costs. My guitar is a Taylor 414ce, so I took it to an authorized Taylor repair shop to get a professional estimate on the repairs. Thankfully, there was no major structural damage to my guitar. It turns out the small cracks on the binding were primarily cosmetic in nature, though the luthier recommended filling and sealing the cracks to prevent further separation or damage. The cracks most likely happened when the guitar was dropped or slammed into something. In addition to the cracks, the action was knocked out of alignment, making the guitar more difficult to play. Thankfully, that too was a relatively minor fix. The repair estimate to fix the cracks and perform a full set up was only $125, which under the circumstances, was much less than my initial fear. The luthier gave me a written estimate, which I used to place my claim with the US Postal Service.
Provide proof of value of the item. A professional repair estimate is only half the battle, as the USPS will only compensate you up to the value of the item. In other words, they won’t pay you $500 for repairs if the item is only worth $100. In my case, I simply copied the Ebay purchase receipt and uploaded that when I filed my claim. Since this was a new purchase, the receipt was the only proof of value The USPS required. Other valid ways to prove value include an “invoice or bill of sale, a cost statement for replacing Express Mail service documents, a copy of the canceled check, a copy of the money order receipt, a copy of the credit card billing statement, or a final or complete transaction sheet indicating the amount deducted from an Internet account.” The USPS insurance claim system also has a way to enter information for items purchase in online auctions. In my situation, I stated the guitar was purchased through Ebay and gave the listing number, along with a copy of the receipt.
Official Claim Form vs. filing online. The Post Office worker I spoke with recommended filing online, which worked well for me. You can find the form here: www.usps.com/insuranceclaims/online (Login required). The form to file a claim manually is PS Form 1000, Domestic or International Claim. You can obtain a form at any Post Office location, or download it online. The benefit to filing online is that you can upload documents and images directly to your claim and come back to your claim and make adjustments throughout the process. Filing a paper form means you need to have print outs of images and files and there is a longer lag time between submitting documentation, and the Post Office processing it.
Original Mailing Receipt and/or Proof of Insurance. You may or may not have this, depending if you were the sender or recipient. I was the recipient of the item, so I didn’t have a copy of the mailing receipt. The item was insured, however, and there was a tracking number on the package, which was enough for the Post Office to verify the item had insurance on it. Always try to get a copy of the actual receipt, just in case. But in my situation, it worked out without having a copy.
Other tips: Always keep a copy of everything for your records. I filed online, which made it easy to upload .jpg and .pdf files. The Post Office may also send you correspondence for your specific claim. Make a copy of that too, just in case. You will also need to create an online account with the US Post Office if you plan on filing your claim online. It’s nice to have an account anyway, as you can use it to place your mail on hold when you go on vacation, purchase postage, file claims, and more. Finally, when filling out the claim, be sure to specify where the check should be sent. You can have it sent to the sender, the receiver, or to a different address.
How long does an insurance claim take? As I mentioned earlier, I expected this to be a very long and drawn out process. It actually went very smoothly. I did have to get a professional repair estimate which took a couple days to schedule an appointment. But once I had that, the other documentation was easy. The form took about 20 minutes to fill out online. Then a few days later I received request to take the shipping container to the closest Post Office with the letter they sent. They inspected the box, filled out a form, and about a week later I received a check to cover the cost of the repair and the amount of the shipping (I wasn’t expecting a refund on the shipping, but that was nice). From start to finish, the process took about 3 weeks, but I can see situations where it may take more or less time, depending on the situation. Keep in mind, each case is unique, so your mileage may vary.
Overall, I wasn’t expecting to have to file a USPS insurance claim, but I’m happy the situation went as smoothly as it did.
Photo credit: Blaise Freeman