The average funeral today costs over $9,000, according to the National Funeral Director’s Association.
Many families don’t realize how much a funeral costs until they’re faced with paying for one.
So many factors go into the cost of a funeral, from the type of service to the style of the casket or urn.
With only 57% of Americans having life insurance, this could be a substantial bill many households are not prepared for.
Below, we’ll provide in-depth data on the individual expenses of a funeral, as well as tips to manage the cost.
In this article:
- Breakdown of funeral costs
- Cost by type of funeral
- Cost by individual expenses
- Cost over time
- How to plan and pay for a funeral
- Alternatives to a traditional funeral
The Average Cost of a Funeral – An Itemized List
Before we dive into the specifics of each expense, let’s take a glance at the most common costs incurred by a funeral as a group.
Here’s an itemized breakdown of the median costs of a funeral, according to the NFDA’s 2019 survey:
- Funeral home service fee: $2,195
- Transporting body to funeral home: $350
- Embalming: $750
- Additional cosmetological preparation: $255
- Viewing fees (staff and facilities): $425
- Service fees (staff and facilities): $500
- Printed memorial programs: $175
- Car/van: $150
- Hearse: $340
- Metal casket: $2,500
- Vault: $1,495
- Cremation fee: $350
- Cremation casket: $1,200
- Urn: $295
Cost by Type of Funeral
How much a funeral costs is largely determined by the means of disposal, which could involve cremation or burial.
The stats below compare the basic and associated costs of each.
Cost of Cremation
Data from the NFDA also shows the median cost of cremation with a casket and urn is $6,645, with a general cremation fee of around $350.
Cremation is becoming more popular due to its affordability. Statista reports a 53.1% cremation rate in the US in 2018, up from 36.22% in 2008.
Without a funeral service, cremation could cost around $1,000 to $3,000.
Cost of Burial
The median cost of a traditional funeral with a casket is $7,640, and the median cost of a funeral with a vault is $9,135.
While most states don’t require vaults for burial, many cemeteries do in order to reinforce the casket and protect it from sinking under the weight of the ground and equipment.
Comparing Costs of Cremation vs Burial
Without a casket and service, the cost of cremation is drastically lower than that of a burial.
Even if you opt for cremation with a memorial service, the cost is significantly lower as a full burial comes with added costs like a plot and headstone.
When you factor in these additional expenses, the cost of burial can easily climb above $10,000.
Cost of Individual Funeral Expenses
The data below provides more insight into the individual costs that come with a funeral.
Non-declinable Service Fee
If you do business with a funeral home, you’ll be charged a basic service fee.
The median service fee charged by funeral homes is $2,195, and it covers expenses like:
- Processing death certificates
- Filing for benefits
- Funeral directing
- Communication with the cemetery or crematory
Transporting the Body
When someone passes away, the funeral home arranges for transportation of the remains to the funeral home or crematory.
The median cost of this service is $350, which has increased by 12.9% over the last 5 years of the NFDA’s study.
The median cost of embalming is $750. The alternative, freezing the body, can cost hundreds of dollars as well.
If you want an open casket or delay funeral services, the funeral home may require embalming for practical reasons.
However, as the Federal Trade Commission advises, a funeral director is not allowed to embalm a body without consent or falsely suggest it is legally required.
Many people forget to factor in the cost of preparing a body for viewing, which on average, is $255.
Expenses might include hair and makeup, dressing, and placement in the casket.
A few hundred dollars could be spent on cosmetology alone if the circumstances of the individual’s death have significantly altered their appearance.
Staff and Facility Fees
If you use the funeral home’s chapel, you’ll have to pay for the space and employees to staff the event.
The median cost of reserving the funeral home for visitation is $425, while using the space for the memorial service will cost around $500.
This cost has seen virtually no change since 2014, meaning you can expect similar fees in the years to come.
Printed Memorial Programs
Most funeral homes offer a package that provides the printed pamphlets distributed at funeral services.
These often include quotes or prayers, a memorial, and an outline of the ceremony. The median cost of the printed memorial package is $175.
The median cost of renting a hearse for a funeral service is $340. The cost of renting a car or van is more affordable, at around $150.
While hearses are typically used to transport the body, a van may be used in some cases.
Both hearses and other funeral home vehicles can transport the family to the funeral home and cemetery.
Likely to be the costliest purchase, the median spent on a metal casket is $2,500.
Some people spend upwards of $10,000 for a custom casket, while most individuals opt for standard metal or less expensive wood options.
Most cemeteries require a vault or burial liner to be placed in the ground with the casket lowered into it.
The vault can add an average of $1,495 to funeral expenses, with some people opting for the most basic cost-effective option and others seeking specialized vaults.
This is the combustible casket (with no metal components) that the body is placed in for both the service and cremation.
The median cost of a cremation casket is $1,200. These products have seen the biggest increase in cost over the last 5 years at 20%.
One of the few expenses associated with direct cremation, urns are purchased to hold the ashes of the deceased.
The median cost of an urn is $295, with a wide range of purchasing options from funeral homes, online outlets, and local retailers.
People who opt for a traditional funeral with a burial have more expenses to consider than the ones listed in the NFDA survey.
You should also factor in the cost of:
- Burial plot: The cost of plots vary regionally, with most ranging between $1,000 and $4,000.
- Interment fees: Opening and closing of the grave can cost around $1,000.
- Headstone: Grave markers and headstones can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on how elaborate the design is.
- Wreath: The deceased’s family usually purchases a wreath to be placed on the casket, which can cost several hundred dollars.
Cost of Funerals Over Time
The cost of parting with a loved one has seen some major changes over the last several years, and even more over the last few decades, highlighted in the figures below.
Median Cost Comparison of Funeral
According to the NFDA, 60 years ago the median cost of a traditional funeral, not including the vault, was $708.
A basic funeral with burial today costs over 10x what it did in 1960, at $7,640.
The cost of funerals continues to climb each year, with a steady increase over the last several decades.
Change in Funeral Prices and Consumer Cost Over Time
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has tracked funeral costs since 1986, alongside the expenses of all consumer products.
In the last 30 years, funeral expenses have risen 227.1%, while overall product prices have risen only 123.4%.
The cost of caskets has skyrocketed as well, at a rate of 230%.
How to Prepare for a Funeral
A lot of individuals are uninformed about the expenses above, left shocked and ill-prepared to shoulder the cost of a funeral.
It’s never too early to start preparing for a funeral, whether it’s yours or a loved one’s.
Use the following steps as a starting point to guarantee peace of mind and savings down the line:
- Educate yourself: Familiarize yourself with the options above to get an idea of what you want and need for the funeral.
- Plan ahead: Get as many details in order now as possible to eliminate the stress of planning while grieving, making note of any elements you want included.
- Have a will: Putting the duties of planning and paying for a funeral in writing adds clarity to the situation and assigns responsibility.
- Create a funeral fund: With a plan in mind, you can build up an emergency fund that is sufficient to pay for the funeral.
- Purchase life insurance: Burial or final expense policies can provide just enough money to pay for a funeral, providing coverage to older applicants who might have a hard time securing a traditional policy.
- Pre-pay: Another option is to take out a prepaid burial policy, which names the funeral home as the beneficiary and allows you to map out all directives for the funeral.
How to Save on a Funeral
When the time comes to pay for a funeral, there are a few surefire strategies that can save you money on premiums.
- Know your rights: Every funeral home must comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, which protects your right to pay only for the services you choose and are legally required to consent to. Learn more about the Funeral Rule.
- Stick to your budget: Go in with an expectation of what you can and are willing to spend to avoid making a hasty emotional decision and overspending.
- Compare quotes: You don’t have to lock in with the first funeral home you encounter. Compare quotes from multiple establishments to get the best rates and service.
- Request price lists: The FTC requires funeral directors to provide you with a general price list upon request and to honor the prices there, which may be lower than the figures they quoted you.
- Branch out: Funeral homes aren’t the only vendors in the game. Shopping around for everything from flowers and grave markers to urns and caskets could save you a lot of money. You can even buy some of these items from Walmart, or Amazon with Prime shipping.
- Skip the viewing: If you forego a viewing of the body and hold the service within the funeral home’s time frame, you may be able to cut down the cost of embalming and cosmetology.
Alternatives to Traditional Funerals
While using the strategies above to prepare and save for a funeral is ideal, extenuating circumstances can make it challenging to afford the price tag of a conventional funeral.
In some cases, you may be eligible to receive financial assistance with a funeral.
Here are a few alternatives you might not have considered:
Direct Burial or Cremation
When the cost of a funeral is too much to bear, many families turn to a direct burial or cremation.
As the name implies, these options bypass funeral services altogether, so the only real charges are those associated with the disposal of the remains.
These alternatives can save families thousands of dollars, especially direct cremation.
These “natural” funerals focus on simplicity, using bio-degradable coffins or shrouds and natural markers like trees and rocks rather than headstones.
Neither vaults nor embalming are required, cutting the cost of a funeral significantly.
The availability of green cemeteries varies by location, with some traditional cemeteries adding green sections.
Veterans are also entitled to assistance from the VA, whether their death is related to their military service or not.
They are entitled to a complimentary plot and burial if they choose to be buried in a national cemetery.
They may also receive reimbursement at the following levels:
- Non-service related death: $300 will be contributed to the funeral and $796 can be put towards a plot if a VA cemetery is not used.
- Service-related death: Up to $2,000 will be contributed towards funeral expenses, and some or all of the cost of moving the body will be covered.
- VA hospitalized death: If the veteran was in the VA hospital at the time of their passing, $796 will be contributed to the funeral, with an additional $796 put towards a plot.
- Indigent death: If the deceased veteran had no family to pay for the funeral, the VA will pay for interment or an urn to be placed in a VA cemetery.
There are a handful of resources that may provide aid to pay for a funeral.
Consider the following options:
- Church or organization: Hosting a funeral service at a church can save money, but some churches and organizations take it a step further, paying for some or all of a funeral for families in need.
- Government assistance: If the deceased received Social Security Benefits, their spouse or children are eligible for a one-time payment of $255. Additionally, some states and counties have assistance programs.
- Crowdfunding: Some people help fund funerals utilizing crowdfunding campaigns that share their story with the public for donations.
- Victim compensation: If the deceased was the victim of a crime, their state’s crime commission could reimburse some or all of the cost of a funeral.
- Disaster relief: If the death is a verified result of a declared disaster or emergency, FEMA will help shield the cost of essential products and services.
Still have questions about the cost of a funeral?
Take a look at some of the most frequently asked questions and answers on the topic.
Who is responsible for paying for a funeral?
If a will exists, the executor is responsible for the cost of the funeral. If no one is named, the closest relative to the deceased person is typically held responsible.
What if you can’t afford burial or cremation?
If the individual(s) responsible for the funeral are unable to pay for it, even with external assistance, they can sign the body over to the coroner’s office.
Do funeral costs vary by age?
Whether someone dies at the age of 9 or 99, it’s unlikely to have a major impact on the cost of funeral services and products. While a child’s funeral might be slightly less expensive, you can still expect to spend thousands of dollars.
How much does it cost to transport a body long distance?
While local transportation of remains costs around $350, that figure could be anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 if the body is in another state or overseas.
Is a funeral deductible?
For the individual, funeral expenses aren’t usually deductible; however, if they were paid for using an estate that exceeds $11.58 million, they can be.
Can you use a health savings account to pay for a funeral?
Funeral expenses are not considered as health expenses, so you can’t use your HSA or flexible spending account on them.
What about Medicare?
Like an HSA, Medicare is designed to provide for healthcare expenses for the living. As such, you cannot use it for funeral expenses.
What type of life insurance can pay for a funeral?
Any type of life insurance policy can be used for a funeral.
Small final expense policies are tailor-made for this reason and are easier to get approved for in old age, whereas a substantial term policy can cover the cost of a funeral and provide for your loved ones at a low cost if you qualify for coverage.
- 2019 NFDA Member General Price List Study, NFDA
- Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist, Federal Trade Commission
- Cremation Rate in the United States from 1975 to 2035, Statista
- Average Burial Plot Costs in the United States, BurialPlanning.com
- The Rising Cost of Dying, 1986–2017, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Burial and Survivor Benefits for Veterans, USA.gov
- Disaster Funeral Assistance, FEMA