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How much does a funeral cost? 11 financial considerations

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6 mins

There are two sides to every coin, and on the flip side of “The High Cost of Living” coin is “The High Cost of Dying.” If you’ve paid for funeral expenses in the past, you just might experience a case of “sticker shock” when you see today’s price list.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) began tracking funeral expenses in 1986. In the 30 years that followed, the price of funerals has risen almost twice as fast as consumer prices for all items, and as prices continue to increase, so does the financial pressure it puts on bereaved individuals.

Today's average funeral costs

When you lose a loved one and meet with a funeral home representative, they’ll present to you all of the options you have, and there are many decisions you’ll need to make. Some of the costs you’ll be facing are:

  • Fees for the funeral director’s services: $1,500
  • Cost of a casket: $2,300
  • Embalming: $500
  • Cost of using the funeral home for the service: $500
  • Cost of a gravesite: $1,000
  • Cost to dig the grave: $600
  • Cost of a grave liner or outer burial container: $1,000
  • Cost of a headstone: $1,500

In this estimate, the costs amount to roughly $9,000 — and that's on the conservative side. Bronze or copper caskets can sell for as much as $10,000. These estimated costs also don’t include flowers or placing the obituary in the newspaper and online.

If you opt for cremation, you’ll find this option also not to be inexpensive. When choosing cremation following a funeral service, you’ll face costs between $4,000 to $6,000 at a funeral home or $3,000 to $4,000 at a crematory.

A good source to find and compare funeral and cremation costs is

Considerations for covering funeral expenses

Most people would find it difficult to come up with $9,000 - $12,000 for a funeral, whether it be expected or unexpected. It’s common for families to be living paycheck-to-paycheck, especially in today’s economy.

So, how can you give your loved one the type of service you feel they deserve when you don’t have enough money to pay for what you’d like to provide? Let’s look at 11 alternatives that can provide you money to at least partially cover the final expenses or pay for a bare minimum type of funeral or cremation.

1. Verify all benefits

The deceased may have been covered by the Veteran’s Administration (VA), a professional association such as a union, or another organization they belonged to. Be sure you claim all of the benefits to which they were entitled.

2. Talk to the funeral home

Some funeral homes have programs to help people with limited resources. They may have a payment program or be affiliated with other groups that offer financial assistance.

3. Ask for help

The discussions may not be easy, but you might be surprised what happens when you turn to family and friends who were close to the deceased. They may not be aware that you’re having difficulty coming up with the money and will be happy to help.

4. Claim the Social Security benefit

If your loved one worked, they’re likely entitled to a one-time Social Security death benefit of $255. Your funeral director can help you apply, or you can contact the Social Security Administration directly (you can’t do it online). Every little bit helps.

5. Investigate low-cost options

A funeral can be meaningful without being expensive. You’ll find there are affordable options available. For example, you can choose a direct cremation for as little as $1,000, and you can receive the ashes and hold a memorial service at a later date. You can also decline many services, such as embalming (which is not required by state law in most cases). Another option is saving money by purchasing your casket direct from a casket manufacturer and not buying it from the funeral home.

6. Borrow money

Most banks offer a financial tool called a “funeral loan.” That’s another way of saying it’s an unsecured personal loan. You’ll need to have good credit to borrow from a reputable lending institution.

7. Check for government assistance

In most states, funeral and burial assistance is handled at the county level. Start with your county administrator or coroner. If you’re using a funeral director to coordinate the arrangements, they can refer you to the proper person.

8. Faith-based groups

Many groups have special funds set aside for funeral or burial costs. If your loved one was a church member, check with the pastor to see if the church can help.

9. Donate the body to science

When you donate the body to science, it usually is cremated and returned to the family. This arrangement normally must be arranged for in advance. Not all bodies are accepted, so it’s good to have other options available.

10. Try crowdfunding

With over 500,000 people in the United States having died from COVID-19, funeral homes and crematoriums are busy and able to charge premium prices. To pay final expenses, some people have turned to social media and crowdfunding as an alternative. Some have been successful with it, and some haven’t. GoFundMe is one alternative you can investigate.

11. Have life insurance

It’s not unusual for people to leave behind life insurance that no one is aware of. Even if you can’t find any reference to life insurance by looking at personal records or banking information, they may have been covered by their employer. You can get help from the benefits or human resources department.

Bottom line

Have a conversation with your loved one in advance and ask them if they have life insurance to help pay for their final expenses or any other financial need surviving family members might have. If they do, be sure you know where the paperwork is located. If they don’t, encourage them to apply for a life insurance policy with a face amount large enough to at least cover their final expenses in a way that will give them the type of send-off they’d like. It will provide peace of mind for both of you.

Having grown up in upstate New York, Bob Phillips spent over 15 years in the financial services world and has been making freelance writing contributions to blogs and websites since 2007. He resides in North Texas with his wife and Doberman puppy.

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

— Published March 9, 2021
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