ZIP Code Database Alternatives (free & low-cost)
Our sources and verification processes deliver products based on very high standards. We believe most businesses will yield a greater return on investment by choosing a superior product. However, we also understand not every purpose requires this level of quality.
Navigating the low-end Market
You can buy repackaged USPS ZIP Code data from several sources for under $50 and often can get census data for free. When choosing, a little research and some familiarity will help.
Here are some tips:
- Watch for claims that fail to give a source (“#1 rated”, “award winning”, “world's leading”). Asking for the source is often a good way to uncover questionable suppliers
- Don't trust ZIP Code review sites pretending to be unbiased. We know of no legitimate independent reviewers of ZIP Code data products to-date
- Determine when the data was last updated and the update schedule
- Review comments from independent forums (exam. stackoverflow.com)
- Download sample data for an area you are familier with and spot check it using google or bing maps. Request the sample data, if necessary.
- Examine refund policies
As mentioned, 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 www.census.gov/geo/ZCTA/zcta
Others use straight USPS data. It goes without saying, free or low-end data offerings usually can’t bear the overhead of extensive data cleansing (and USPS data is not clean). However, we're already assuming that is acceptable in your case, so lets focus on other things to be on the look-out 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- just the primary city for each ZIP Code (normally around 43,000+ records). Most locators and address validation utilities need the former (57k recs).
- Most low-end latitude and longitude centroids are based on geometric calculations - meaning they could fall in the middle of forestry land, large lakes, parks (e.g. Central Park) where no people live for miles. According to your needs, that may be fine for you. If you need population based centers, you will probably need commercial data (see our ZIP Codes with Lat/Lon).