Americans have been choosing cremations so much in recent years that for the first time in 2015 funeral homes across the country handled as many cremations as burials. That bump in popularity is why two consumer groups have become concerned that many funeral homes are using unfair marketing tactics to close the gap in income caused by fewer burials.
The Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Federal of America and the Funeral Consumers Alliance based in Burlington, Vermont, held a joint news conference recently to release the results of a new study on cremation costs and disclosures.
Their study of 142 funeral homes showed the cost of a simple cremation in 10 major metropolitan areas can range from $1,095 to $3,200 in Philadelphia; $850 to $3,495 in Atlanta; and $1,295 to $7,595 in Washington, D.C.
By comparison, the average cost of a traditional funeral, including embalming and a metal casket is about $6,600, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. Cemetery services, including grave site and vault or liner can add another $3,000 to the bill.
The funeral directors group said the rate of cremation equaled the rate of burial for the first time last year and is expected to exceed the rate of burial this year. The trade organization expects about 1.6 million American families will choose cremation this year.
But sales information given to those considering cremation can be confusing, the two consumer advocacy groups said.
“A significant number of funeral homes (22 percent) are advertising prices for simple cremations that don’t include the cremation itself,” said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America. “It’s like going to a hospital for surgery only to find out the price they quoted you does not include the cost of the surgeon who did the operation.”
Simple cremations allow consumers to purchase their own materials, such as the urn, from other vendors either because the items are less expensive or more suitable to their tastes. Or consumers can choose to let the funeral home provide all the products and services, providing a package deal.
Jarett Sperling, supervisor of Sperling Funeral Home in McCandless, Pennsylvania, said the price that funeral homes typically quote for consumers includes overhead costs to the funeral director, such as removal of the remains from wherever the body is picked up and transporting the remains to a crematory.
“It’s our cost,” he said, adding that funeral homes have wide discretion to charge what they feel their services and overhead costs are worth. “Funeral homes can set that fee at whatever they want. If you call around, you’ll see the prices are all over the board for cremations.”
Sperling said it is conceivable the actual cremation cost may not be in the quoted price for a cremation because the Federal Trade Commission funeral rules only require overhead costs to be quoted, unless the consumer purchases an all-inclusive package deal.
He said he offers cremation packages starting at $1,600 that includes all charges, including the $30 fee that Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County charges to authorize a cremation.
The consumer groups in July petitioned the Federal Trade Commission to start requiring funeral homes to fully disclose their prices for burial services on the web.
Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, suggested a change in the rules is not likely to happen overnight. “The telephone is the best way to price shop now until the FTC is able to make online pricing for funeral homes a requirement,” he said.
Frank Perman, owner of Perman Funeral Home and Cremation Services in Shaler, Pennsylvania, advertises the price of his products and services online. “Everybody does things differently in terms of how they choose to operate,” he said.
Perman said he charges $1,295 for a basic cremation package that includes cremation and an urn. He said he also provides the family with five certified copies of the death certificate.
“I want people to have the full story,” he said. “No surprises is how I operate.”