ZIP Code Database Alternatives (free & low-cost)
Although we believe most
businesses will yield a greater return on investment by choosing a superior product
, we understand not every purpose requires the highest level of quality. The following is to arm you with some basic information when making a comparison. As you will see, one "ZIP Code database" is dramatically different from another according to its purpose, source, and verification process. Regretfully, we are seeing the term “commercial grade” applied so frequently that it’s no longer useful for determining quality or standards.
Navigating the low-end Market
You can buy repackaged USPS ZIP Code data from several sources for under $50 and often can get a ZIP-Code-like database derived from the census bureau for free. When choosing, it’s good to have some familiarity with this industry.
- Don't be fooled by unsourced slogans (“#1 rated”, “#1 trusted source”, “award winning”, “world's leading”).
- Don't trust "unbiased" review sites. We know of no legitimate independent reviewers of ZIP Code data to-date.
- Determine when the data was last updated and how often it's updated.
- Download sample data, spot check, and examine refund policies.
Some free or low-end ZIP Code data is derived from Census data.
Watch our ZCTA vs. ZIP Code video.
- Be aware that Census data does not have every ZIP Code (only for General Delivery). This misses a large percentage of the ZIPs.
- Census data is only accurate to the decade.
- The census bureau uses a ZCTA code (which is ZIP Code like, but not exact as illustrated below) – see census.gov/ZCTA
Others use straight USPS data. Free or low-end data offerings usually can’t bear the overhead of extensive data cleansing (and USPS data is not clean). If that is acceptable in your case, lets focus on other things to watch for:
- Be particularly wary of using old data. ZIP Codes change a great deal every month.
- If a ZIP Code boundary covers more than one city, determine if you need each city listed (~57,000 separate records) -OR- if you only need the primary city for each ZIP Code (normally around 43,000+ records). Most locators and address validation applications need the former (57k recs).
- Most low-end latitude and longitude centroids are based on geometric calculations which often fall in the middle of forestry land, large lakes, parks (e.g. Central Park) where no people live for many miles. According to your needs, that may be fine. If you need more precise population based latitude / longitude, you will probably need higher-end commercial data like our ZIP Codes with Lat/Lon.
Free Postal Code Data Lookup