The cost of a funeral varies greatly by location, and according to Time, costs can have a wide variance within a local market. According to the most recent figures from the National Funeral Director’s Association (NFDA), the median funeral cost in 2014 was $8,508.
It’s difficult to determine exactly how much a funeral will cost, largely because many funeral homes don’t list their prices, a lack of transparency that was illuminated in this 2015 report from the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America. The survey “revealed significant price differences–for example, from $2,580 to $13,800 for a full-service funeral–and the failure of most funeral homes to disclose their prices adequately: Only 38 of 150 homes (25%) fully disclosed prices on their websites, while 24 (16%) failed to fully disclose prices both on their websites and in response to an email and phone call.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though the industry has become more transparent since the 2015 report. On February 7, 2017, NPR published an article based on a months-long investigation into pricing and marketing in the funeral business. What NPR found was “a confusing, unhelpful system that seems designed to be impenetrable by average consumers, who must make costly decisions at a time of grief and financial stress.”
With this in mind, let’s look at some average costs and cost saving tips so you’re best prepared.
Professional Services Fee
According to the NFDA, the national median cost in 2014 was $2,000. This is a “nondeclinable” fee, meaning you’re required pay it. This basic fee covers the funeral’s time, expertise, and overhead. According to Kiplinger, “the important thing to remember is that your total cost will be this fee plus the cost of other services that are described below. If you want a simple burial or cremation, choose the home with a low up-front fee. That way you won’t subsidize services you don’t use. If you want a more elaborate funeral, you’ll have to look at the cost of the whole package before judging the up-front fee.”
Transfer of remains
This is for picking up the body and taking it to the funeral home. The national median in 2014 was $310.
Embalming and body preparation
This is typically mandatory for open-casket viewing. The 2014 national median was $695 and body preparation (such as hair styling and cosmetics) was $250.
Funeral viewing and ceremony
If this takes place at the funeral home, expect to pay for use of the facilities and any necessary staff. The 2014 national median was $420 for the viewing and $495 for the ceremony.
The 2014 national median for a metal casket was $2,395. Kiplinger reports that casket markups are upwards of 300 percent, so it’s wise to shop around if you’re able to do so. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s consumer information, while the average casket costs $2,000, some mahogany, bronze or copper caskets can cost as much as $10,000. Furthermore, the FTC report recommends, “When you visit a funeral home or showroom to shop for a casket, the Funeral Rule requires the funeral director to show you a list of caskets the company sells, with descriptions and prices, before showing you the caskets. Industry studies show that the average casket shopper buys one of the first three models shown, generally the middle-priced of the three. So it’s in the seller’s best interest to start out by showing you higher-end models. If you haven’t seen some of the lower-priced models on the price list, ask to see them — but don’t be surprised if they’re not prominently displayed, or not on display at all.”
The FTC also adds that you can buy a casket from a third party dealer and have it shipped directly to the funeral home, advising that the “Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to agree to use a casket you bought elsewhere, and it doesn’t allow them to charge you a fee for using it.”
The 2014 national median for a hearse was $318 while the use of a service car/van was $143.
Memorial printed package
Printed programs and memorial guest books, the 2014 national median was $155.
The above costs are for what might be considered a standard funeral, and of course, this will vary by what type of service you’re looking for. There are other costs associated as well, including the burial plot (which will vary by location) as well as vault liners or grave liners, grave markers (average cost of $1,500 - $2,000).
Cremation is also an alternative, with the 2014 national median cost at $6,078 for a funeral with a viewing and cremation.
Tips to Save on Funeral Costs
As we’ve mentioned above, funeral costs can vary greatly within the same region. The emotional pressure of bereavement along with a lack of transparency and time pressure can put you at a disadvantage. The best way to save is to plan ahead and compare costs. Keep in mind that the figures quoted from the NFDA is the national median, which should provide you with a solid reference point. The FTC’s Consumer Information has a pricing checklist to help keep you organized.
Some life insurance policies offer “burial insurance” or “memorial insurance” or “final expense insurance” which are simply different ways of saying the same thing. If you’re interested in buying life insurance or already have a policy, it makes sense to talk with your agent about it. Others may want to put aside money in a savings or money market account. You can also contact funeral homes and ask about pre-paying funeral costs. Another option is to set up a funeral trust, which is a savings account legally designated to be used for funeral costs.
Of course, life is often unexpected, and survivors may be left without burial insurance or a savings account and left to burden the costs of a funeral. In this scenario, we recommend asking a trusted friend or family member to assist you in getting a fair price during an emotional and time sensitive situation. A trusted ally may be able to speak and negotiate on your behalf as it may be difficult for you to do so.
Whether you’re able to plan ahead or have to work quickly, funeral costs can be confusing and financially cumbersome. But with some research and figures at hand, you can put yourself in the best position to afford a service for yourself or your loved ones.