Low-cost cremation services: 5 things to know

The costs associated with funeral services continue to rise. The price index for funerals has shot up almost twice as fast as prices for all other consumer items, according to 2017 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The price of caskets alone surged 230% from December 1986 through September 2017, the agency reports.

Perhaps related to those numbers, cremation is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and it makes sense to pre-plan arrangements as much as possible before those decisions have to be made under duress. One way to do that is by comparing low-cost cremation services and what they offer.

What to know about low-cost cremation services

When it comes to a traditional funeral service, the added on affairs such as viewings, visitations and wakes can drive costs up to anywhere from $6,000 to $26,000, including burial vault/cemetery plot and a grave marker, according to U.S. Funerals Online.

In contrast, cremation — disposing of a person's remains by burning them into ashes —is a relatively affordable option. Average cremation costs start at around $600-$700, according to Cremation Resource. Because you skip many of the costly features of a traditional funeral, like transporting the body from the funeral home or chapel to the cemetery and embalming, cosmetology and hairdressing, you save quite a bit of money.

Because funeral planning can be an emotional task, it’s good to go into the process with as clear and informed a mind as you can. Here are some things to know about low-cost cremation services.

Find cremation providers near you

Go to Cremation.com, Cremation.org or Google to find cremation providers and funeral homes with crematoriums in your area. Once you locate a provider, call them and ask if they are certified. The National Funeral Directors Association and the Cremation Association of North America both offer crematory certification courses to member funeral homes to ensure that safe and regulated cremations are taking place.

What are direct cremation services?

Direct cremation services are those in which the deceased is cremated immediately after death and there is no funeral service beforehand. Direct cremation is considered the most affordable funeral service in the industry. Prices can approach around $1,100, but can be half that depending on the region and what specific services are included.

After a direct cremation, it is common for many families to do a modest and dignified memorial service at a later date.

Shop around

When it comes to the business of death, comparison shopping is still the best way to ensure you’re being taken care of. It’s a good idea to call around to different funeral homes in your area to inquire about the prices for direct cremation.

If you don't want to call, online sites such as Efunerals.com and Funeraldecisions.com have online forms you can fill out to request quotes.

Here are three things you want to pay special attention to when shopping for a cremation provider:

  • Ask for a price list: You'd think this would be voluntarily given to you, but in many cases, you're going to have to ask for it. Funeral homes are resistant to disclosing prices because they like to view each funeral as a unique case. The Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule mandates that funeral homes must tell you their prices over the phone, if you ask.
  • Know what you're getting: Find out exactly what is included in certain packages vs. what is being advertised. Ask for an itemized list so you can clearly see differences.
  • Watch for gotcha fees: Like any other industry, some hidden fees may be laden in your agreement. Many funeral homes may bill you separately for things like a death certificate and cremation permits, since these are third-party services. Others may try to up-sell certain amenities to you based on creature comforts they think every funeral should have.

How much should you pay for an urn?

Urn prices vary widely based on design and more, but if you let your funeral service pick one out, you can expect to pay more. There's no rule against buying an urn from a store for much cheaper. Costco, Walmart and Amazon all sell urns with prices starting from $40 to $90.

Where will the memorial service be held?

As I mentioned earlier, it’s common to have a memorial service for the deceased. Of course, many funeral directors will tell you how their funeral homes are set up as appropriate and comforting places for such occasions. While that may be true, they aren’t going to give it to you for free.

If your family wants a memorial service, in order to save money or protect your privacy it may make sense to have it at your place of worship or at the home of a relative.

How to get a free cremation

If the deceased's body is being donated to science, cremation will be free. There are several organizations around the country and resources available online to facilitate this, potentially saving you hundreds or thousands of dollars. One of them is Science Care, which is the world's largest accredited whole body donation program. Medcure is another. These programs typically can send ashes of the deceased back in a matter of weeks. Check with your state for local programs, as well.

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