Understanding Funeral Costs

moneyThis year, Americans will spend billions of dollars on approximately 2.5 million funerals. According to the National Funeral Directors Association (FTC), a traditional funeral cost $6,500, on average, in 2004. The cost of many funerals today tops $10,000 or more. In fact, a funeral is one of the biggest purchases some people will ever make.

Few people are as careful in shopping for funeral goods and services, however, as they are in making other important purchases. Most of us wouldn’t consider buying a car or furniture or a major appliance without learning everything we can about the product and comparing features and price tags. But when it comes to funerals, important decisions are often made in the hours and days immediately following the death of a loved one, at a time when rational thinking is clouded by raw emotion.

The best way to avoid overspending on a funeral is to make arrangements in advance of any need. But even when pre-arrangement isn’t possible, you can reduce expenses by learning more about the factors that make up funeral costs.

  • Funeral director’s basic service fee. This is a fee that the funeral director charges for all funerals, regardless of the type of funeral or the merchandise and services selected. The basic service fee includes things like housing the body, planning the funeral, and coordinating arrangements with the cemetery and other service providers.
  • Casket. The casket is typically the single most expensive item in traditional funeral, and because of the wide variety of styles and prices available, it offers one of the best opportunities for cost savings. Caskets may be constructed of metal, wood, fiberboard, fiberglass or plastic. The price of a casket can range from an average of around $1,000 to $10,000 or more for a mahogany or bronze casket. In the past, caskets were usually sold only by funeral homes, but it is becoming increasingly common to purchase a casket from a third-party vendor, often at considerable savings.
  • Optional services. Some of the optional merchandise and services for which additional fees may be charged include use of a hearse and transporting the remains, embalming, use of the funeral home facilities for ceremonies, use of a limousine or funeral car for the family, and cremation or interment.
  • Outside services. At your request, the funeral director may purchase outside services on your behalf and add the cost of these items to the total bill for the funeral. Typical reimbursable costs are those paid for funeral flowers, obituary notices, clergy, and organists or soloists. The funeral home may add a service charge to its costs for such services, but if so, you must be notified in writing of the additional charge.
  • Burial vaults or grave liners. Contrary to common misunderstanding, no state laws require the purchase of a burial vault or grave liner. Some cemeteries do require them, however, to prevent the ground from sinking at the gravesite. Burial containers do nothing to preserve the remains.
  • Cemetery or mausoleum. The final resting place may be a cemetery plot for in-ground burial or a mausoleum or columbarium for entombment of the body or cremated remains.

Keep in mind that other than the funeral director’s basic service fee, most funeral costs are optional, depending on the specific goods and services you choose. Many funeral directors offer package prices, which may include everything from the casket to floral arrangements. While a funeral package may be convenient, it may also add unnecessary expense.

Under the Funeral Rule you are guaranteed certain rights, including the right to purchase only those services you want and need and to decline any items you don’t want. For more information, see the Funeral Rule /Consumers Rights guide on the FTC’s website.

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