How Much Does the Average Funeral Cost in the US? (2021 Update)

How Much Does the Average Funeral Cost in the US? (2021 Update)

Average Funeral Costs: The Basics

The average funeral costs $7,640. That includes a viewing and burial, embalming, hearse, transfer of remains, service fee and more. It doesn’t, however, include the cost of the cemetery site, gravestone or vault (many cemeteries require this cement container that prevents the ground from caving in). It also doesn’t include, say, a catered luncheon with drinks after the memorial service, which can add hundreds if not thousands of dollars to the cost.

Between 2014 and 2019, the median cost of a funeral with viewing and burial increased about 6.4%, from $7,181 to $7,640, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). That may not seem so bad, but from 2004 to 2014, the cost spiked 28.6%.

As of 2019, there were 19,136 funeral homes in the U.S., according to the National Directory of Morticians Redbook (yes, it’s a thing). About 89% of funeral homes are privately owned by families or individuals. There’s a reason why it’s a big industry. Everyone will need a funeral sooner or later.

How Much Does the Average Funeral Cost with Burial Cost?

The National Funeral Directors Association estimates the median cost of a funeral and burial at about $9,420. This price does not include a burial plot or things like flowers or transportation. Depending on the funeral home and funeral items chosen, the cost could be substantially higher. That’s why price shopping is so important.

It’s understandable that people grieving a recent death would struggle to do a comprehensive search for funeral homes and various costs. “In many cases, people just haven’t thought about a funeral,” said Cheryl Reed, a spokeswoman for the review site Angie’s List, in a CNBC article on funeral pricing. “So, they’re dealing with their grief at the same time they’re dealing with these decisions. It’s hard to be a great shopper.”

With proper planning, you can actually reduce some of the stress and financial responsibilities on your family members when you die. An increasing number of people are making plans in advance to cover their funeral costs, not only to ease the burden on those left behind but also to ensure their final wishes will be taken care of.

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Know Your Funeral Rights

Before you proceed, it is necessary to realize thaIt is entirely reasonable, as we mature, to start worrying about the final preparations. Another crucial aspect of making a formal plan is to be sure you realize the risk of your death and have paid for it.

Before you proceed, it is necessary to realize that when it refers to a funeral, you have a unique privilege.

In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) first implemented the “Funeral Rule” to prohibit funeral homes from exerting leverage on customers to purchase products and services they did not require or want.

Also, it was aimed at helping prevent customers from being overburdened for the products they needed.

You are subject to the Funeral Rule:

  • Show a list of the rates for the casket.
  • Pricing details can be provided by phone.
  • Just purchase the products and services you want.
  • A comprehensive list of all the products and services shall be given.
  • A product list is given for the outer burial containers.
  • For cremation use an alternate jar.
  • Until submitting any payments be issued with a formal statement.
  • Decline embalming before a funeral.
  • Provide your own urn or casket.

Another thing is when making plans, and you reserve the option to provide a written, itemized document even before you spend. This wants to demonstrate just what you’re purchasing, every item’s expense, and overall price.

The declaration will also detail any civil, crematory, or graveyard laws allowing you to buy goods or supplies from the funeral parlor. The mortuary can claim payment in full in advance.

Moreover, in most states, without a funeral home, a person, society, or religious group may cope with death. You can do it all by yourself, or employ a home funeral services specialist or death midwife to help.

You may prepare the remains, collect the appropriate documents, hold a service or vigil, and take the body to the funeral or crematory location.

Nevertheless, nine states allow you to employ a funeral director: New York, Nebraska, Michigan, Louisiana, Iowa, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, and Indiana.

When you are worried that your next-of-kin will not respect your wishes for your body’s temperament, in certain states, you may appoint another individual as your representative to satisfy your preferences.

Embalming is required anytime a person traverses Alabama state lines. New Jersey, Nebraska, and Minnesota, and allow embalming while transporting the remains via a specific carrier.

Many other states allow either a sealed casket or an embalming whether a particular carrier ships the individual.

This is never followed, though, and funeral homes in individual states may regularly carry unpackaged bodies (for Jewish customers).

Tips For Saving On Funeral Costs

As families can expect to pay over $15,000 in fees, it’s very important to understand funeral expenses and know what you’re buying.

Even basic services can lead to a lot of debt. Here are some simple steps to significantly reduce funeral expenses:

  1. Ask for the general price list — All funeral homes are required by law to show you a general price list upon request. Many funeral homes will verbally inflate their prices, hoping you agree to them. However, they are required to honor the rates shown on their general price list regardless of what they state verbally. Every price list will have a separate line entry for each item. It is your right only to purchase the services and goods that you want.
  2. Shop around — Call four to seven funeral homes to get estimates on the services you are interested in.
  3. Keep your budget a secret — Don’t tell the funeral homes how much money you have to spend. If they ask you what your budget is, simply say, “I’m not sure, but it won’t be much. What’s the best you can do?”
  4. Consider buying a casket/urn separately — You aren’t required to purchase a casket, urn, prayer cards, or flowers directly from the funeral home. All of those items are typically up-charged by the funeral home, and alternatives can be a great deal cheaper. For example, Costco actually sells caskets and urns.
  5. Don’t insist on a viewing — Embalming and body preparation are often not required unless the body is not buried within a specific time. Ask about refrigeration.
  6. Consider a direct cremation/burial — A direct cremation is a simple cremation without a funeral service of any kind. A direct burial is a burial service that does not include any sort of service or funeral ceremony. Either can cut thousands from the cost. Some of the cheapest funeral costs are for direct cremation. That could be followed by an at-home service. This can be a difficult choice, however, as many families may not want to host a full service themselves.

Organizations like the Funeral Consumers Alliance also offer tips and resources for minimizing the costs of funerals, burials, and cremations. See the FCA’s detailed overview of your legal rights after a loved one dies to get more savings tips.

The FCA’s four-step funeral planning guide also gives you an easy-to-follow game plan for funerals and burials that don’t break the bank.

When dealing with funeral homes, always ask for the general price list and double-check for changes. Know that a funeral home cannot force you to make unnecessary purchases, like caskets with “sealer” or gilded memorial prints.

Use the numbers in this article to help you create a baseline and budget, but remember that prices will vary a great deal depending on where you are. You can also print this official FTC checklist for funeral expenses and use it as you price shop or compare your options.

If a funeral home includes a fee not listed on the official FTC checklist, never be shy to ask what it is and why it’s there.

Calculating the Actual Cost of a Funeral

The funeral provider must give you an itemized statement of the total cost of the funeral goods and services you have selected when you are making the arrangements. If the funeral provider doesn’t know the cost of the cash advance items at the time, he or she is required to give you a written “good faith estimate.” This statement also must disclose any legal cemetery or crematory requirements that you purchase specific funeral goods or services.

The Funeral Rule does not require any specific format for this information. Funeral providers may include it in any document they give you at the end of your discussion about funeral arrangements.

Embalming

Many funeral homes require embalming if you’re planning a viewing or visitation. But embalming generally is not necessary or legally required if the body is buried or cremated shortly after death. Eliminating this service can save you hundreds of dollars. Under the Funeral Rule, a funeral provider:

  • may not provide embalming services without permission.
  • may not falsely state that embalming is required by law.
  • must disclose in writing that embalming is not required by law, except in certain special cases.
  • may not charge a fee for unauthorized embalming unless embalming is required by state law.
  • must disclose in writing that you usually have the right to choose a disposition, like direct cremation or immediate burial, that does not require embalming if you do not want this service.
  • must disclose in writing that some funeral arrangements, such as a funeral with viewing, may make embalming a practical necessity and, if so, a required purchase.

Caskets

For a “traditional” full-service funeral:

A casket often is the single most expensive item you’ll buy if you plan a “traditional” full-service funeral. Caskets vary widely in style and price and are sold primarily for their visual appeal. Typically, they’re constructed of metal, wood, fiberboard, fiberglass or plastic. Although an average casket costs slightly more than $2,000, some mahogany, bronze or copper caskets sell for as much as $10,000.

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.

Traditionally, caskets have been sold only by funeral homes. But more and more, showrooms and websites operated by “third-party” dealers are selling caskets. You can buy a casket from one of these dealers and have it shipped directly to the funeral home. The Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to agree to use a casket you bought elsewhere, and doesn’t allow them to charge you a fee for using it.

No matter where or when you’re buying a casket, it’s important to remember that its purpose is to provide a dignified way to move the body before burial or cremation. No casket, regardless of its qualities or cost, will preserve a body forever. Metal caskets frequently are described as “gasketed,” “protective” or “sealer” caskets. These terms mean that the casket has a rubber gasket or some other feature that is designed to delay the penetration of water into the casket and prevent rust. The Funeral Rule forbids claims that these features help preserve the remains indefinitely because they don’t. They just add to the cost of the casket.

Most metal caskets are made from rolled steel of varying gauges — the lower the gauge, the thicker the steel. Some metal caskets come with a warranty for longevity. Wooden caskets generally are not gasketed and don’t have a warranty for longevity. They can be hardwood like mahogany, walnut, cherry or oak, or softwood like pine. Pine caskets are a less expensive option, but funeral homes rarely display them. Manufacturers of both wooden and metal caskets usually offer warranties for workmanship and materials.

For cremation:

Many families that choose to have their loved ones cremated rent a casket from the funeral home for the visitation and funeral, eliminating the cost of buying a casket. If you opt for visitation and cremation, ask about the rental option. For those who choose a direct cremation without a viewing or other ceremony where the body is present, the funeral provider must offer an inexpensive unfinished wood box or alternative container, a non-metal enclosure — pressboard, cardboard or canvas — that is cremated with the body.

Under the Funeral Rule, funeral directors who offer direct cremations:

  • may not tell you that state or local law requires a casket for direct cremations, because none do;
  • must disclose in writing your right to buy an unfinished wood box or an alternative container for a direct cremation; and
  • must make an unfinished wood box or other alternative container available for direct cremations.

Burial Vaults or Grave Liners

Burial vaults or grave liners, also known as burial containers, are commonly used in “traditional” full-service funerals. The vault or liner is placed in the ground before burial, and the casket is lowered into it at burial. The purpose is to prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time. A grave liner is made of reinforced concrete and will satisfy any cemetery requirement. Grave liners cover only the top and sides of the casket. A burial vault is more substantial and expensive than a grave liner. It surrounds the casket in concrete or another material and may be sold with a warranty of protective strength.

State laws do not require a vault or liner, and funeral providers may not tell you otherwise. However, keep in mind that many cemeteries require some type of outer burial container to prevent the grave from sinking in the future. Neither grave liners nor burial vaults are designed to prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains. It is illegal for funeral providers to claim that a vault will keep water, dirt, or other debris from penetrating into the casket if that’s not true.

Before showing you any outer burial containers, a funeral provider is required to give you a list of prices and descriptions. It may be less expensive to buy an outer burial container from a third-party dealer than from a funeral home or cemetery. Compare prices from several sources before you select a model.

Preservation Processes and Products

As far back as the ancient Egyptians, people have used oils, herbs and special body preparations to help preserve the bodies of their dead. Yet, no process or products have been devised to preserve a body in the grave indefinitely. The Funeral Rule prohibits funeral providers from telling you that it can be done. For example, funeral providers may not claim that either embalming or a particular type of casket will preserve the body of the deceased for an unlimited time.

Celebration of lifecosts

A celebration of life is a modern tradition focusing on uplifting family and guests and remembering the loved one with a variety of personal touches.

In addition to places of worship and funeral homes, venues include outdoor areas, hotels, restaurants and clubs. Gatherings are often large and involve favorite food and drinks, themed decor, live or recorded music, and even favors for guests. Many of the primary expenses are similar to traditional funerals, though a celebrant may lead the ceremony instead of a clergy member. Personal touches like decorations, musicians, specially designed floral arrangements and the rental of a special venue can counterbalance the savings on costs like transportation and visitation.

All that said, a celebration of life does not have to be an elaborate party. An intimate gathering of family and friends at your home or the funeral home is absolutely wonderful and can cost very little.

A celebration of life can cost thousands or nothing at all.

How Do People Typically Pay for Funerals?

There are options for paying for funerals, and some families use a combination of the following:

  • Savings: Many families simply pay for funerals from their own savings. This money might come from the estate, next-of-kin, or pooling from different family members. 
  • Prepayment: It’s also possible to pre-pay for your own funeral, typically through a funeral home. This locks in a rate and plan in advance, making it simpler for family members in the future. 
  • Life insurance: Life insurance benefits are commonly used to pay for funerals, burial costs, and so on. Many people have life insurance on their own or through an employer. 
  • Burial insurance: Burial insurance is included within a life insurance policy, and specifically covers burial and funeral costs.
  • Charities: For those who can’t afford to cover the full costs of a funeral, there are often groups, organizations, and charities that can help. 
  • Veterans benefits: The VA will pay up to $796 towards burial and funeral costs for those who served. There are also extra benefits, like burials in a national cemetery or special funeral ceremonies offered for free. 

Frequently asked questions

What does the average burial cost?

The average funeral costs for a burial is $7,640, but this is dependent on many factors that can easily impact the price. Funeral home fees, staff and services can all vary wildly, depending on where you live, so you should always research your options before choosing a special funeral home or service.

What does the average cremation cost?

Cremations are much more affordable than burials, averaging just $350. There may be additional services that you require, however, including funeral home staff and service fees, as well as a casket rental for the viewing.

What is the cheapest funeral option?

Many funeral homes often mark up their services to account for their time and labor, accounting for a huge chunk of funeral expenses, but you can avoid these unnecessary costs if you cut out the middle man. Try to do as much as you can yourself or appoint a team of friends or family members who can help.

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