Planning for a funeral is one of the most emotionally strained financial decisions a consumer will make in his or her life, and some funeral providers appear to be profiting from a lack of transparency in the industry.
Very few funeral homes advertise price information on their websites, according to a new report from the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America, which advocates for a “meaningful, dignified and affordable” funeral. Of 193 funeral homes with websites the report surveyed, only 30 (16%) posted the price information that the Federal Trade Commission’s “funeral rule” requires them to hand to customers who ask.
The FCA is advocating for states to implement their own disclosure laws in light of the discovery. It noted that in California, where companies are required to advertise prices on their websites, 72% post their general price lists online.
Here’s a rundown of what you can expect to pay:
• The average funeral costs anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000, depending on the type of service, according to 2016 estimates by Parting.com, a funeral home comparison website.
• The average casket costs $2,300, but the funeral director’s services can be $1,500 and cost of using the funeral home for the actual service can cost another $500.
• That doesn’t include $500 for embalming, $1,000 for the grave site, $600 to dig the grave, $1,000 for a grave liner and $1,500 for a gravestone.
Why the vastly different prices?
People who are grieving are highly unlikely to spend time comparing prices or even dispute a high bill, Funeral Consumer Alliance executive director Josh Slocum said. In fact, they’re most likely to just pay it.
“One of the most critical ways families can control their costs is by shopping around just as they would for any other product, but it’s difficult to do that for funerals,” he said. “The grieving person who has the time pressure of a dead body, doesn’t have time to physically travel to every funeral home in town so they can be given a piece of paper.”
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The latest numbers come after a 2017 report by the same two organizations that found America’s largest funeral provider charges consumers significantly more than average for death-care products and doesn’t list prices clearly on any of its branches’ websites.
Service Corporation International
which also comprises the brand Dignity Memorial, operates more than 1,000 funeral homes making up an estimated 16% of total industry revenue. SCI said in a statement that it complies with industry requirements and receives high scores on customer satisfaction surveys.
“We continuously look for ways to improve the customer experience and online resources are one way to do that,” it said. “However, we strongly believe having a personal conversation to understand how families envision honoring their loved ones goes far beyond simply using an online resource and is the best way to help families during a very difficult time.”
• That report focused on the costs of three types of services: Simple cremation, simple burial and full-service traditional funeral with viewing of the body.
• It compared prices at 103 independent funeral homes across 10 major metropolitan areas to those of 35 SCI funeral homes in the same cities.
• The survey found median prices at SCI were 72% higher for simple cremation, 50% higher for simple burial, and 47% higher for a full service funeral than at independent homes surveyed.
Not one of the more than 1,000 SCI facilities have prices listed online. “It is past time for funeral homes to join the 21st century and post their prices on their websites as nearly every other retail service sector does voluntarily,” the report said.
The Federal Trade Commission’s “Funeral Rule,” passed in 1984, requires death services companies to give consumers a list of prices when they call or come in person to the business, but the report’s authors argue these measures aren’t sufficient.
“Naturally, funeral homes have profit in mind and are likely to quote the consumer a price for their full-service offerings, while failing to disclose that less expensive burial and cremation options are available,” it said.
(Full service offerings are a “traditional” funeral with viewing of the casket. The price includes fees for funeral home employees, pick up of body from place of death, embalming, placement in casket, viewing of body, ceremony, hearse, and a graveside ceremony.)
Even with the Funeral Rule in place, about one-quarter of funeral companies didn’t follow it in 2015 and 2016 and were fined by the FTC. The FTC is set to review and update the rule in 2018, and consumer advocates are encouraging it to require price listing online.
Meanwhile, consumers can check if funeral homes in their town have been surveyed and rated by the FCA. If they have not, consumers should call at least more than one funeral home and ask for a price list to be sent to them by email. If the company refuses to do this, move on.
“Look through the prices with your family at home and remember your legal rights,” Slocum said. It may not always be possible or even seem appropriate. But he added, “Planning ahead of time is best.”