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.

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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.

Cremation Costs

A direct cremation, possibly the most economical burial option, is a straightforward cremation carried out by the crematorium, without the use of any burial practice. The corpse is picked, cremated and the remains are taken back to the relatives.

According to a study undertaken with the DFS Memorials cremation providers network, 80% of cremations performed in 2020 are direct cremations.

In a case study at a Boise, Idaho funeral home, Time magazine article focused on how Cremation Is Now Outpacing Traditional Burial.

Cloverdale Funeral Home’s Robert Boetticher, Jr., discussed when cremation was rarely stated in mortuary school in the 1980s. Still, now the incidents are 60% cases of cremation at his funeral home in Boise.

NFDA research also indicates the average cost of a casket cremation, and the urn is $6,645, including a general cremation charge of about $350.

The cremation is now becoming increasingly common because of its accessibility. In 2018, Statista registered a cremation rate of 53.1 percent in the U.S., up from 36.22 percent in 2008.

The average cremation cost is between $1,000 to $3,000 without basic service fees.

Many parts of the whole cremation cycle will be handled by crematory workers. That involves signing the certificate of death and taking the remains and moving it to the crematorium.

Although if any of these providers have a fee, it usually is small, and often a lot less money than mortuaries.

In the last 10 years, there have been several studies and polls on the growing increase of cremation. Many of these studies outline empirically that price was the guiding force in the move toward the more economical cremation option.

We might argue that through their tradition of gauging families at significant funeral rites, the funeral industry has brought this on itself.

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.

Pre-Paying Funeral Costs

More and more people are making the choice to cover their own funeral expenses – both to make sure their final wishes are carried out and to save their loved ones from having to take care of the arrangements and the cost upon their death.

One smart way to set aside money for funeral and burial expenses is a final expense insurance policy, sometimes referred to as burial insurance or funeral insurance. The purpose of these policies is to pay a death benefit – often between $10,000 and $25,000 – for the specific purpose of covering the costs associated with end of life expenses. These typically include funeral expenses, but may be used for anything the family needs – travel costs for family members, unpaid bills, or medical expenses.

Most final expense insurance companies will give you a free final expense life insurance quote to help you determine what insurance options are available to you. Because these policies offer smaller death benefits, final expense insurance usually doesn’t require a medical exam or physical. Coverage can often be issued based on answers to health questions on the application. Burial insurance for seniors is a great fit because of its affordability and easy application process.

Direct Cremation Provides an Alternative to a Funeral

If you’re concerned about paying thousands of dollars for a funeral, Reggie recommends turning to direct cremation. Direct cremation, also called simple cremation or immediate cremation, involves cremating a person’s remains shortly after they die and bypassing the viewing, visitation, funeral and burial.

The Cremation Society of America says direct cremation allows the deceased person to be cremated in a simple container or vessel instead of a pricey casket. Also, this approach eliminates the need for embalming, which has a national median cost of $775.

The average cost of a direct cremation done by a crematory is $1,000 to $2,200, while the average cost of a direct cremation at a funeral home is $1,600 to $3,000, according to Parting.com, which helps people find providers of funeral services.

Know Your Funeral Rights Before You Begin

As we age, it’s perfectly natural to begin thinking about final arrangements. One important part of making final arrangements is making sure you understand – and have made preparations for – your funeral costs.

Before you begin, it’s important to know you have specific rights when it comes to funerals. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) first introduced the “Funeral Rule” in 1984 to prevent funeral homes from pressuring people into buying goods and services they didn’t need or want. It was also intended to help protect consumers from being overcharged for the items they did want.

The Funeral Rule gives you the right to:

  • Buy only goods and services you want.
  • Be offered pricing information by phone.
  • Be provided with an itemized statement of all goods and services.
  • See a list of casket prices.
  • Be offered a price list for outer burial containers.
  • Be provided with a written statement prior to making any payments.
  • Select an alternative container for cremation.
  • Provide your own casket or urn.
  • Decline embalming prior to a funeral.

Average funeral costs by state

Every year, the NFDA publishes its General Price List Survey. These are the results of their latest 2019 report:

2019 NFDA Average Funeral Costs

State Burial Cremation
Alabama $7,353 $4,298
Alaska $7,290 $4,808
Arizona $6,907 $4,517
Arkansas $6,933 $4,688
California $7,290 $4,808
Colorado $6,907 $4,517
Connecticut $7,612 $5,447
Delaware $7,461 $5,021
Florida $7,461 $5,021
Georgia $7,461 $5,021
Hawaii $7,290 $4,808
Idaho $6,907 $4,517
Illinois $7,855 $5,305
Indiana $7,855 $5,305
Iowa $8,123 $5,673
Kansas $8,123 $5,673
Kentucky $7,353 $4,298
Louisiana $6,933 $4,688
Maine $7,612 $5,447
Maryland $7,461 $5,021
Massachusetts $7,612 $5,447
Michigan $7,855 $5,305
Minnesota $8,123 $5,673
Mississippi $7,353 $4,298
Missouri $8,123 $5,673
Montana $6,907 $4,517
Nebraska $8,123 $5,673
Nevada $6,907 $4,517
New Hampshire $7,612 $5,447
New Jersey $7,849 $5,364
New Mexico $6,907 $4,517
New York $7,849 $5,364
North Carolina $7,461 $5,021
North Dakota $8,123 $5,673
Ohio $7,855 $5,305
Oklahoma $6,933 $4,688
Oregon $7,290 $4,808
Pennsylvania $7,849 $5,364
Rhode Island $7,612 $5,447
South Carolina $7,461 $5,021
South Dakota $8,123 $5,673
Tennessee $7,353 $4,298
Texas $6,933 $4,688
Utah $6,907 $4,517
Vermont $7,612 $5,447
Virginia $7,461 $5,021
Washington $7,290 $4,808
West Virginia $7,461 $5,021
Wisconsin $7,855 $5,305
Wyoming $6,907 $4,517

No matter where you live, cremation is cheaper than a burial, although some areas are certainly cheaper than others. If you live in states like Colorado or Oklahoma, you will pay significantly less than those who live in Kansas or North Dakota.

Breaking Down Average Funeral Costs in the United States

What goes into the average funeral costs? We’ve covered some of the different elements above. Still, many are surprised to learn how many extra costs go into the overall funeral service. This section will highlight the specific breakdown of the average funeral costs in the United States in 2021. 

Service

Median cost

Basic services fee

$2,195

Transfer to funeral home

$350

Embalming

$750

Other body prep

$255

Viewing facilities

$425

Funeral venue

$500

Hearse and car/van service

$490

Memorial print materials

$175

Metal casket

$2,500

Burial vault

$1,495

Headstone

$1,000

Cremation fee

$350

Cremation casket

$1,200

Urn

$295

Basic services fee ($2,195)

The basic services fee is a non-declinable fee charged by funeral homes. This fee doesn’t change regardless of the type of service or burial you choose. What does the basic services fee cover? It usually includes obtaining copies of death certificates, securing permits, securing remains, and basic arrangements. 

Transfer to the funeral home ($350)

After a loved one dies, a funeral home is called to coordinate transportation of the body to the funeral home. This requires special equipment and a special van, and typically costs between $300 and $400. 

Embalming ($750)

Embalming has been common practice since the Civil War, and it’s still relatively common in 2021. This is the process of using chemicals and preservatives to slow down decomposition. Embalming is used for viewings, visitations, or upon the family’s request. It’s important to note that most states do not require bodies to be embalmed before burial.

Other body prep ($255)

Additionally, other preparations might need to be done to prepare the body for viewing. This is especially true if the death was traumatic, but families might also request specific hair and/or makeup. Any additional prep will be an added cost. 

Facilities or venue ($425 – $500)

The family may choose to hold a viewing or funeral at the funeral home (vs. a home, church, or other location). In that case, this runs between $425 to $500. The family typically reserves a funeral venue to hold a service, and there might be a reception afterward. It is not required to have the funeral at the funeral home. 

Hearse or car/van service ($490)

It’s common practice for families to travel to the cemetery from the funeral in a rented car or van. The family might also choose to have the body transported in a hearse. This is an optional service, and families might make their own arrangements to the cemetery. 

» MORE: Easy as 1-2-3, make an online will in minutes.

 

Memorial print materials ($175)

Memorial print materials include things like printed programs, funeral invitations, memorial keepsakes, and so on. These are optional. There are ways to keep costs low, such as designing your own creations or printing at home. Many funeral homes can also handle these arrangements for the family. 

Metal casket ($2,500)

The most common type of casket for burial is a metal casket. These are durable and relatively affordable, though there are more affordable options. Some families also choose to rent a casket for the funeral service, and use a less expensive casket for the actual burial. 

Burial vault (1,495)

A burial vault is used underground to secure caskets. Though not required in all places, it’s sometimes a good idea depending on the weather in a specific area. Additionally, they are sometimes required by cemeteries to make maintenance easier. 

Headstone ($1,000)

A headstone is a type of gravemarker that rests at the head of the grave. It lists information about the deceased, like the name, birth and death date, and an epitaph. A traditional, upright, stone headstone costs an average of $1,000, though flat, inexpensive markers are another alternative. 

Cremation fee ($350)

A cremation fee is the cost to perform a cremation. Cremains are gathered in a small bag after the cremation and given to the family. 

Cremation casket ($1,200)

Many families choose to use a cremation casket to hold the body during the cremation. These are made of cardboard, wood, or other flammable materials, and are burned with the body. Cardboard caskets are the least expensive, and sometimes are provided by the crematorium at no additional cost. Some families opt not to use a casket at all. 

Urn ($295)

In 2021, urns cost an average of $295 in the US. While costs can vary depending on the size of the urn, material, and so on, they’re an affordable alternative to caskets. An urn is not required if the family chooses to create a memorial diamond or scatter the ashes. 

Breakdown and Estimation

$25,000Since the 1980s, funeral rates have gradually increased. Nevertheless, costing up to $25,000 or more is not unusual for the typical burial, based on whether the corpse is preserved or cremated.

Based on the type and material used, the caskets and urns will cost thousands of dollars individually.

There are three types of costs to remember when it comes to overall cost analysis for funerals: Baseline expenses, upgrade expenses, as well as miscellaneous expenses.

Baseline expenses are the expenditures for a simple death or cremation facility you would receive. Those involve expenses such as a casket or urn, charge for the service, fees for embalming, and transportation.

Upgrade expenses are charges connected with the form of urn or casket, style of service, and any potentially provided accessories for a funeral.

Miscellaneous expenses refer to items that are not specifically relevant to the mortuary but are sometimes viewed as an integral aspect of the burial, including services, a guest list, and a note of obituaries.

Understanding the expense of these things is half the fight to realize how much resources you’re going to have to put away.

Your relatives should be forced to concentrate on mourning your death away by pre-costs instead of thinking over whether they’ll compensate for your funeral.

Here is a breakdown and estimate as stated by the National Funeral Directors Association.

  • Professional Service Charge ($2,200): This cost includes the staff and supplies costs.
  • Embalming ($725): This is also needed for open-casket care or where an interstate transfer of the remains is to take place.
  • Transportation of Deceased to the Funeral Home ($325): That is the fee for the body’s move to the funeral parlor.
  • Miscellaneous Cosmetic Arrangements ($250): The expense of applying lipstick, shoes, and hairdressing is included by this charge.
  • Funeral Home Support Employees ($500): You can only be charged should you want to use the funeral home workers’ facilities to help in the funeral ceremony.
  • Facility Usage for Viewing ($425): When you choose to utilize the funeral home facilities for the viewing, this fee will apply.
  • Hearse ($325): It is the car used for moving the dead to the graveyard from the funeral home.
  • Service Car/Van ($150): This vehicle can hold family members or can be used instead of a hearse to move a person.
  • Printed Memorial Kit ($160): Mortuaries also print prayer cards and pamphlets to honor the departed and describe the service layout. Service Car / Van ($150): This vehicle can hold family members or can be used instead of a hearse to move a person.
  • Metal Casket ($2,500): Casket rates may be one of a funeral’s most expensive line pieces, based on what you are going for. The FTC reports that “an average casket costs slightly over $2,000” but “some caskets of bronze, mahogany, or copper retail for as much as $10,000.”
  • Cremation Casket ($1000): It is an entirely combustible jar where a corpse is put into the cremation chamber to be poured through.
  • Vault ($1,395): It is the structure in which the coffin lies to shield it from the earth’s weight and the massive construction machinery that runs over the grave.
  • Cremation Charge ($350): The body’s cremation is done for a minimal fee.
  • Urn ($275): The jar containing the deceased’s ashes may be very costly.

Other Costs:

  • Flowers ($160): Guests frequently submit floral, so a family will choose to buy a wreath or casket spray, which may range in value based on the flower styles.
  • Grave Markers and Headstones ($300-$6,000): Simple, flat grave markers typically cost a small fortune instead of thousands, whereas custom-made sculptures or upright monuments will cost over $10,000 based on the size of the project.
  • Funeral Plots ($2,100): Costs will vary from $1,000 to $4,000 for a community burial plot, regarding the location and the type of plot; private cemeteries appear to be more costly.

How to Save on Funeral and Burial Costs

While the median price for a funeral with a viewing is $7,848 and a cremation with a viewing is $6,970, that doesn’t mean you can’t find a better price. Here are some tips to save on funeral and burial costs.

  • Shop around. Compare prices among funeral homes. Funeral prices can vary widely for the same type of service in the same town. A 2017 investigation by NPR found a funeral home that charged nearly twice as much as another funeral home for a cremation, even though both funeral homes used the same off-site facility.
  • Have a family member or friend help you negotiate prices. Planning a funeral can be both stressful and emotional. You may want to have a trusted friend or family member speak on your behalf.
  • Get price information over the phone. Take advantage of the FTC’s funeral rule and ask for prices over the phone.
  • Only buy goods and services you want. Under the funeral rule, you have the right to buy goods and services separately. For example, you can purchase a burial, memorial and casket. You don’t have to accept a funeral home’s package if you don’t want it.
  • Don’t buy a casket. If you are having a cremation or an alternative (such as a green burial), you don’t need to buy a casket. If you want to hold a viewing, you may be able to rent one from the funeral home.

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