Average Cremation Costs in 2019

What to Know About Cremation Costs in 2019

Cremation has been growing as an alternative to a traditional funeral for some time.  In fact, about half of all final dispositions of remains are now being cremated according to cremation industry sources.

Cremation has become more popular because it is a simple, flexible and economical process that also uses less of the earth’s natural resources than traditional burials.

What is the Average Cost of Cremation?

The latest national data available is from 2017. According to data from the Cremation Research Council , the average cost for creation was about $1,100 for a direct cremation.  That amount was independent of costs for memorial services, urns and other related optional expenses.  Total cremation costs can rise quite a bit if those factors are figured in.

This compares favorably to the cost of a traditional funeral that averages about $11,000 for a burial and service.

To get an accurate accounting of the costs associated for each, the FTC’s Funeral Rule requires providers to provide pricing up front.  Consumers must also be presented with a full range of options, not just the most expensive ones when shopping for services.

What Does a Cremation with Services Cost?

Exact costs will vary depending on the region of the country and the specific services that accompany the cremation, but costs may typically run about $3,000 with a funeral service, casket and other related incidentals.

Factors That Affect End-of-Life Costs

There are several factors that can affect end-of-life costs for both cremation and burials:

Region.  Costs do vary depending on the part of the country where you live, and in some cases, from city to city.

Provider.  Each service provider will charge different rates.  By law, you must be provided with a price list before making a decision on which provider to choose, so that you can accurately compare costs.

Transportation.  Moving remains from one location to another means you will incur transportation costs.  The type of travel that you choose and the distance traveled could have a major impact on the cost.

Added Services.  Some providers offer package deals at a discount.  Others allow you to add a la carte services that can range from embalming, the type of coffin or urn you choose, holding a service, for example.

Timeliness.  If you have flexibility as to when you can have remains disposed of either through cremation or a traditional burial, you might be able to get reduced pricing instead of entering into a situation where you are locked in or must act in a hurry.

Financing.  If you can’t pay for everything up front, you may be able to finance the cremation or burial.  Just understand that there will be increased costs due to finance charges and/or interest.

Veterans services.  If the deceased was a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, you may be able to have their remains committed to a national cemetery, along with several services at little or no cost.  Some benefits might also be partially or fully covered under the VA.

Guarantees.  Services that are guaranteed with money-back promises tend to be more costly than those that aren’t, but the peace of mind that comes with the guarantee can be well worth it in a time of need.

Arranging a Cremation

There are several steps that are part of the cremation process.

After a person passes away, their body is stored in a climate-controlled environment until a death certificate is processed.  This takes about 48 to 72 hours in most states.

A burial transit permit is issued in the county where the death took place so that the body can be transported to either the funeral home for services or directly to the crematory.

A medical examiner must approve the cremation which can take another two to three days depending on the laws of the state where the cremation is to take place.  The next of kin are required to give written permission for the cremation unless the deceased gave cremation authorization prior to passing away.

Although a funeral home is involved most of the time, cremation is generally contracted out to a third-party provider at an offsite location.

Some people choose to have a body embalmed if there is going to be a funeral service before the body is cremated.

If there is no viewing, a body is cremated in whatever clothing they were wearing when they passed away.  This may be a hospital gown, pajamas or just a sheet.  If there is a traditional service, then most of the time, the body is cremated in whatever clothes were worn at the service.

A casket is not required for cremation, but most states require that there is some kind of container that is either made of wood or cardboard that is cremated with the body.

After the body is transported to the crematory, jewelry is removed.  If the person had a pacemaker or other medical device, it is removed as well because this can be an explosion hazard.  The container is placed in a cremation chamber and the temperature is raised to between 1,400 and 1,800 degrees resulting in all organic matter being consumed by heat or by evaporation.

In case you were wondering, it is not only illegal to cremate more than one person at a time, it is usually physically impossible.  This is because most cremation chambers are only large enough to accommodate a single body at a time.

The remaining material is known as cremains which are carefully removed from the chamber.  A magnet is also used to collect any metal that was in the body such as metal joints, or bridgework.  Gold or silver teeth are vaporized during the cremation.

After the cremains are further pulverized, they are placed in a temporary container or in an urn provided by the family.

Overall, the entire process will take between 10 and 15 days in most cases.

After this process is done, the remains are then memorialized.  This can be done by inurnment where an urn is placed in a columbarium, it is buried, or the ashes are scattered at some point in the future.

How to Choose a Cremation Service

You have several possible cremation service providers to choose from.  Before you make a final decision on the provider, make sure you understand what each offers in terms of pricing or packages.  Ask for a price list that will give clear pricing.

Also find out if the provider has a remembrance center where you can shop for urns, caskets, or other keepsakes.  If you’re working with a stand-alone crematory instead of a funeral home, your options may be limited.

Once you’ve decided which cremation provider to work with, you still need to make some other decisions.  These can be spelled out in advance by the person themselves or made at the time of the service by family members.

If cost is your primary consideration, then direct cremation is the easiest and least expensive option.  There is only transporting the body to a crematory, having the body processed, and returning the ashes to the family.

Even if you choose a simple cremation with no memorial or visitation, ask if you can be present when the cremation takes place. Some providers offer a waiting room for families.

Others may choose to include a memorial service or a funeral service either before or after the cremation.  You can work with a funeral home to help you decide what’s right for your situation.

Consider Pre-Planning a Cremation

Pre-planning can make the actual services more affordable by locking in current pricing instead of paying for services at the prevailing costs at some point in the future.

You can work with a provider that accepts payments in advance for future services, also guaranteeing that adequate funds will be available when they are needed and there will be one less financial burden to deal with at the time of death.

The Neptune Society is one of the most well-known and respected cremation providers that offer a wide range of pre-planning options.  They may be a good place to start in your search for more information.

Pre-planning terms will differ, depending on your state’s legislation on funeral plans, and personal circumstances for making payment.

It’s also important to know that part of pre-arranging a cremation is to pre-authorize the cremation.  For a cremation to proceed, the legal next-of-kin or the person involved in their own services must sign a Cremation Authorization Form.

You can pre-plan by doing finding an affordable cremation services provider near you and putting aside the required funds for an ‘at-need’ direct cremation in a Payable on Death (POD) account at your bank.  Many funeral service providers are happy to work with you to prepare the necessary paperwork for a cremation and keep it on file for a later time.

Payment Options and Cremation Insurance

Insurance providers offer cremation insurance which is a form of final expense life insurance.  Proceeds from the policy are used to pay for the cost of a cremation and other related final expenses.

These are a simplified issue whole life policy with the option of buying small amounts of protection.  They are considered a viable option for people who only need a little bit of coverage to cover the cost of cremation.  Because it is a whole life policy, details are locked in up front.  If you pay your policy premiums on time, this means:

  • Premiums can never increase
  • The policy can’t expire at any age
  • Coverage can’t decrease
  • No medical exam is needed to qualify
  • There is a fast payout of benefits upon passing of the insured

As far as paying for cremation goes, you can realize some cost savings depending on what you decide.   You can pay for cremation in full and maximize cremation cost savings.

You can also pay for cremation over time with installment payments.

Using life insurance proceeds may be an option or simply paying for the services out of the deceased person’s estate.  In some cases, it’s possible to spread cremation costs out among several family members so that no one person must shoulder the entire financial burden.

Fundraising events if the person was well known in the community might be possible or seeking community or charitable help to offset costs could be options as well.

Social Security offers a lump-sum death payment of $255, but only if you qualify for this payment.  There are also Indigent Burial Assistance Programs offered by many counties across the United States, mostly in place to help needy and destitute families.

Costs and Fees Commonly Associated with Cremation

The Federal Trade Commission offers excellent resources on what to expect regarding the costs of funerals and cremations.  Go here for a detailed explanation of the costs and fees associated with these services.

In addition, by law, all funeral homes and cremation businesses must quote their prices by providing consumers with a copy of their General Price List if you visit them in person.

You should either seek a referral from a trusted resource or call several funeral homes or crematories to get pricing, see what services are provided and how they can assist you with all aspects of a cremation.

Finding Affordable Cremation Services and Providers

Cremation costs are much less expensive than a traditional funeral, but you might still end up paying as much as $3,000 depending on which cremation services you choose.

You can try to save money by doing some comparison shopping.  Also consider looking into a direct cremation.  This is a no-frills option with no embalming, formal viewing or funeral service that can save money.  It is usually offered by funeral homes, but you may be able to save even more if you work directly through a cremation provider.

You may be able to get help and referrals through your nearby memorial society or local funeral consumer alliance program. These are volunteer groups that offer a wide range of information and prices on local funeral and cremation providers.

There are also a number of free websites — like funeraldecisions.com and efuneral.com — that you or your family can use to do the work for you. With these sites, you just answer a few questions, and your nearby funeral homes will provide estimates based on your request.

The cost of an urn can also drive up the cost, adding as much as $300 or more to the price you will have to pay.  However, you are not required to get an urn.  Instead, most funeral homes will place ashes in a plastic bag and then insert it into a thick plastic box.  This is all that is required to spread ashes.  You can also find affordable urns online for as little as $25 at places such as Walmart.com.

If you’re a veteran, the VA provides a burial benefit that includes a free burial at a national cemetery and a free grave marker. The VA doesn’t cover funeral provider or cremation costs, but you can still save money going this route if you qualify.

Social Security may also shoulder some of the financial burden as well.  It pays a survivor a one-time death benefit of $255.

You may be able to avoid all cremation costs if you decide to donate the body to medical science or research.  Medical schools will cremate your remains for free, and either bury or scatter your ashes in a local cemetery or return them to your family, although it may take a while for them to do so.  You can call the National Family Service Desk, which operates a free referral service at 800-727-0700.

What is the Least Expensive Cremation Service?

Direct cremation is the least expensive form of cremation.  There is no embalming, formal viewing or a funeral.  Only the essentials are part of the process: picking up the body, completing required paperwork, the cremation itself, and providing ashes to the family.

Because the body is cremated almost immediately after death, a family can engage the services of a crematory directly instead of working through a funeral home.  This alone can save a substantial sum of money.  A crematory will often charge a fraction of the price that a funeral home would charge for the same services.

If you choose to work through a funeral home, some may charge a lower Basic Services Fee (funeral homes’ non-declinable flat fee) for direct cremation. If you are interested in saving money, it’s worth calling a number of different funeral homes to find one with a lower direct cremation Basic Services Fee.

The body is also cremated in a simple container, instead of a lavish casket.  The funeral home or crematory you’re working with must make available an unfinished wood box or alternative container for the cremation.  If you provide an urn to the crematory, they must return the cremated remains to you in the urn you provided.  If you don’t provide an urn, they must return the cremated remains to you in a container, which may be a cardboard box

Family members may choose to hold a service after the fact which also eliminates the need for additional expensive funeral costs as well.

What Happens if you Can’t Afford Cremation?

If a relative dies and you can’t afford to pay the costs for creation, there are some options:

  • Check to see if the deceased had a life insurance policy and if some or all of the funeral costs are covered.
  • Consider getting a loan. You may be able to finance the cremation and services from a bank or credit union.
  • Ask other family members to help you to pay for it. Be specific and candid and let relatives know exactly how much the costs will be.
  • If you can’t come up with the payment any other way, talk to the coroner’s office. You can sign a release form and the state or the county will pitch in to pay for a burial or cremation.  You may be able to recover the ashes for a fee, but if this is not possible, then the county will bury the ashes in a common grave with other unclaimed ashes.

How to get a Free Cremation

If a body is donated to science to help medical education and research, then cremation can take place free of charge.  Many medical schools and research organizations will pay the bill for transportation, cremation and a death certificate.  Some will also return remains in about two to four weeks or scatter the ashes on their own, but others may hold the cadaver and not return remains for as long as two years.  It depends on the institution and their individual needs and policies.

Most medical schools only accept full body donations, with all organs still intact, so that students can dissect and study the anatomy.  Medical schools also have the right to refuse to take a body at any time after a person dies and for any reason.

There are several organizations throughout the country that will work with families to donate a loved one’s body upon death for medical research purposes.   If possible, it’s best to try and make arrangements in advance.

Here are some organizations you can look into that will accept donated bodies:

To ensure you’re dealing with a reputable organization, look for accreditation by the American Association of Tissue Banks.

You might be curious if you get the same benefits if you are a registered organ donor.  Generally, this is not the case.  Free cremation is offered to those who register to donate the entire body to science, not simply agree to allow the harvesting of life-saving organs at time of death.

Most people are eligible for body donation, but there are some exceptions. If the person has or had a communicable disease such as hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and/or tuberculosis, severe obesity or edema (fluid swelling) or the body has experienced decomposition or trauma, that body will not be eligible.

Are Cremation Prices Likely to Rise in 2019?

In most major cities, a direct cremation can be conducted for between $595 to $995.  Rural areas tend to be more expensive, as there is less competition for the cremation market.

More people are choosing cremation, and this means that funerals are becoming more affordable for families. With cremations on the rise, the prices for traditional funerals are coming down in many markets.

Most funeral businesses need to increase their volume of cremation business to sustain their revenue.  This has led to cremation ‘price wars’ in some cities, where funeral homes are reducing their direct cremation price to increase their volume of cases.

But at the same time, corporate funeral entities are working to acquire their own share of cremation business.  Corporate death care companies, such as Dignity Memorial and The Neptune Society, are enlisting the expertise of professional marketing services and are predominant in online advertising and direct mail.

Corporate and privately-owned funeral entities across the U.S. are acquiring successful independent cremation businesses to dominate a cremation market in a specific area.  By eliminating competition, especially those offering lower priced cremation services, eventually it is expected that cremation services in those markets will start to rise again.

Cremation Costs by State

Under the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, a funeral home must provide you with a list of all the services offered and the costs associated with each. It helps you make educated decisions about your own end-of-life plans or about services for a loved one. It helps you see exactly how the overall costs of cremation or burial can be affected by each decision you make regarding services.

You can also reach out to the Funeral Consumers Alliance which has created an affiliates directory that provides all funeral planning and cremation information nationwide.  Some active affiliates have done a funeral home price survey listing prices for all funeral homes in their area. Some affiliates have also negotiated discounts for members at certain cooperating funeral homes.