Final Expense Insurance

Average funeral costs: Typical expenses & tips for saving

Thinking ahead about funeral expenses is both practical and necessary. For every person who wonders, “How much does a funeral cost?” there are countless others who never ask the question. And many end up saddling themselves or their family with expenses they could have avoided.

That’s why we’ve assembled the most recent costs associated with funerals, burials, and cremations. We hope these stats and averages help you set realistic expectations and determine whether your current life insurance policy provides adequate coverage.

We’ve also included some time-tested tips to help you save on final expenses for yourself or a family member.

Table of contents

 

How much does a funeral cost?

According to data published by the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the median cost of a traditional funeral in the U.S. in 2021 is $7,843. That number includes all of the typical expenses associated with funeral services, viewing, and burial. If you purchase a vault for the burial, the cost increases to $9,420.

What those numbers don’t tell you, however, is that funeral costs vary significantly among regions, states, and cities. Depending on the wishes of the deceased or the options chosen by family members, the prices for any given funeral could be higher or lower than these medians.

Since those totals account for the costs of funerals and burials alone, they also don’t include any number of ancillary expenses you may incur. Flower displays, headstones or grave markers, and even cemetery plot costs will add to your expenses.

 

Breakdown of funeral costs

graphic showing the typical costs of a funeral

 

So, what’s included in the almost $8,000 total funeral cost indicated by the NFDA? Let’s take a look at the median line item costs of the services required for traditional funerals and burials:

  • Professional services fee ($2,300): This fee covers the cost of their labor and equipment.
  • Removal and transport of remains to the funeral home ($350): This is the charge for transferring the body to the mortuary.
  • Embalming ($775): Embalming is often required for open-casket services or if the body is going to be transferred interstate.
  • Miscellaneous cosmetic preparations ($275): This fee covers the cost of applying makeup, clothing, and hairdressing.
  • Facility usage for viewing ($450): This cost will apply if you wish to use the funeral home’s chapel for the service.
  • Funeral home staff for service ($515): You will only pay this if you choose to use the services of the funeral home staff to assist with the funeral ceremony.
  • Hearse ($350): This is the vehicle used to transport the deceased from the funeral home to the cemetery.
  • Service car/van ($150): This vehicle can transport family members or may be used to transport a body instead of a hearse.
  • Printed memorial package ($183): Funeral homes will often print pamphlets and prayer cards honoring the deceased and detailing the outline of the service.
  • Metal burial casket ($2,500): How much does a casket cost? It depends on what you need. While $2,500 is the median price for common metal caskets, you can also choose a wood casket (median cost of $3,000) or a “green” casket with no chemical treatments (median cost of $1,500).

These expenses don’t include the cost of a vault. Per the NFDA, the 2021 average cost of a vault was $1,572.

Many cemeteries require the use of a vault for landscaping purposes. Without one, the ground above graves tends to sink, making property maintenance difficult and increasing the risk of disturbances to the graves themselves.

graphic showing the average cost of a funeral with and without a vault

 

Other costs

Depending on the details of the funeral service, where the remains are buried, or preferences about markers or headstones, you should also consider the following expenses:

  • Cemetery plots ($3,581 on average): Plot costs vary wildly depending on the region of the country you live in and the specifics of the cemetery, its location, and the size of the plot itself. For example, some plots in Alaska cost as little as $775, while a plot in California might run you over $7,000. The best way to determine plot costs is to decide ahead of time where you want to be buried and note the cost of different plots at that specific location.
  • Grave markers and headstones ($2,000 median cost): A reasonable expectation for headstone costs is $500 to $3,000. Plain, flat grave markers usually cost hundreds of dollars rather than thousands. However, custom upright monuments or statues can cost more than $10,000, depending on the project’s complexity.
  • Flowers ($50 to $80 per arrangement): While guests and loved ones often bring or send flowers, a family may want to purchase its own flower arrangements for a service. These are typical costs, but special arrangements could run up to several hundred dollars.
  • Funeral insurance costs ($20 to $300/month in premiums): The costs of funeral insurance vary according to how much coverage you purchase and your age at the time of purchase. Typically, these are whole life insurance policies that pay a death benefit following the passage of an insured.

Cost of cremation vs. burial

A cremation usually costs less than burial because you avoid all cemetery expenses, many transport costs, and the costs of materials like a burial casket or a vault. However, you still need to consider the costs of a memorial service and the cremation itself.

Assuming a service or visitation with the body present occurs before the cremation, you still need to consider the costs of embalming, preparation, and funeral home staff.

chart showing the cost of cremation vs burial

 

Median cremation cost

In 2021, the NFDA reports that the national median cost of a funeral with viewing and cremation is $6,970. That’s $873 less than a funeral and burial.

Those costs assume that one pays the same amounts for a funeral that are listed above:

  • Professional services fee: $2,300
  • Removal and transport of remains to the funeral home: $350
  • Embalming: $775
  • Miscellaneous cosmetic preparations: $275
  • Facility usage for viewing: $450
  • Funeral home staff for service: $515
  • Hearse: $350
  • Service car/van: $150
  • Printed memorial package: $183

Additional median costs associated with cremation include:

  • Cremation fee ($368): This is the typical cost if a third party performs the cremation.
  • Cremation casket ($1,310): These caskets are different from those used for burial and typically cost less.
  • Urn ($295): The choice of urn or urns is personal, and costs can vary quite a bit depending on the preferences of the deceased or the family.

When you know you plan to be cremated, it’s a good idea to purchase cremation insurance. These variants of whole life insurance policies are earmarked to cover cremation expenses. Monthly premiums are often less than $20 depending on age at the time of purchase and the coverage amount.

 

Average burial cost

Ignoring the costs of a funeral, transport, and preparation of the remains, Americans can expect to pay $9,653 just for a burial. This total includes:

  • Metal casket ($2,500)
  • Cemetery plot (average cost: $3,581)
  • Headstone (average cost: $2,000).

Combined with all funeral expenses, that means the total cost of burial can easily approach $15,000.

Add in a vault ($1,572), and your costs increase further. In the event one opts for entombment in a mausoleum, the average cost is about $4,000. Private mausoleums can cost many thousands more.

Families might be surprised at costs this high, which is why it’s so important to plan ahead. In addition to burial insurance for seniors, be sure to consider other options that may reduce your expenses or make it easier to manage the costs.

For example, many families purchase cemetery plots well in advance or pool resources for a family plot in a section of the cemetery. If you’re a veteran, you may also be eligible for a burial allowance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

To save on casket expenses, consider a green (environmentally friendly) casket. These caskets cost around $1,500, according to the NFDA. They’re made from sustainable woods and aren’t treated with chemical agents. Green caskets are simpler and more utilitarian, which keeps costs down.

 

Cost of a visitation or wake

As a part of overall final expenses, wake or visitation expenses can be significant.

All of the procedures required for a funeral — service fee, transportation, embalming — are also necessary for a wake. According to the NFDA, the median cost of facilities and staff for visitation is $450 in 2021. Similarly, the median cost of facilities and staff for a funeral is $515.

Most families opt for a wake and a funeral service. The median cost of these activities — the same total described above for funeral and burial expenses — is $7,843. This figure includes all services and items associated with a visitation and a funeral. However, it excludes burial-specific costs, such as a vault or headstone.

 

Median cost of funerals & cremations by state

Funeral and cremation costs vary considerably among states and regions. Below is a breakdown of the median costs of final expenses in different parts of the United States.

 

Region & StatesMedian Cost of Burial
(with viewing and ceremony)
Median Cost of Cremation
(with viewing and ceremony)
New England
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
$7,881$7,069
Middle Atlantic
New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania
$8,093$7,463
South Atlantic
Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia
$7,800$7,070
East South Central
Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee
$7,271$6,314
West South Central
Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas
$7,334$6,405
East North Central
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin
$7,868$6,953
West North Central
Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska
$8,500$7,560
Mountain
Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming
$6,888$5,694
Pacific
Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington
$7,225$6,028

Paying for funeral costs

With the costs of funerals, burials, and cremations being so high, you may be wondering how you’ll pay them. You might also be wondering who pays for funeral costs.

While families typically pay for a funeral, burial, or cremation, the funds don’t always have to come from their own pockets. Funeral planning can help alleviate the massive financial burden for surviving loved ones who face these unexpected expenses. Here are some of the best ways to prepare for final expenses:

  1. Set aside cash — Put cash aside specifically to cover end-of-life costs. It’s vital that this money is never used for emergencies or any other life event. If you use it, it won’t be there to pay your funeral costs. Also, make sure the deceased is not the only person named as the account holder where the funds are being held. That would subject the funds to the probate process. You can even establish a funeral trust to hold the money. That will ensure that the money is accessible to pay for funeral expenses.
  2. Get burial insurance — Purchase burial insurance specifically to cover final expenses. These are small face-value whole life policies explicitly designed to cover funeral costs. Burial insurance rates are affordable, policies are available for seniors up to age 85, and they have very lenient underwriting. Some plans actually have no underwriting, which means everyone is guaranteed to be approved.
  3. Pre-pay at a funeral home — You can take out a pre-need policy directly at a funeral home. It’s a contract at the funeral home of your choice that uses a life insurance policy to fund the funeral where the funeral home is named as the policy’s beneficiary. Pre-payments are a great option if your goal is to pay off the funeral over a period of time. They also allow you to document all of your final wishes, so both the funding and planning of the funeral are complete.
  4. Sell off assets after death — Liquidate assets to acquire the funds to pay off the funeral bills. This option really should be a last resort because assets (property, 401(k), investments) must go through the probate process before they are accessible. For that reason, there will be a substantial amount of time between the date of death and when you’ll have the cash in hand to pay for the funeral. However, if all other options are unavailable, this might very well be the only way to pay off the final expenses.
  5. Buy life insurance — All life insurance pays out a tax-free cash benefit to whomever you name as the beneficiary. There is no reason this money can’t be used to pay for burial costs. Believe it or not, you can even buy baby life insurance if you want to insure your kids. Basically, anyone from age 0-90 can get life insurance (assuming they medically qualify) to cover final expenses.

The key is to think ahead about how much funeral costs, get specific in your will about your wishes, and set aside money for the large costs. You should also consider pre-paying for some of the more expensive items, like the burial plot, and make sure your family knows about your plans ahead of time.

 

Getting Financial Assistance

If you’re struggling with funeral expenses, you’re not alone. Many grieving families get hit with a huge financial burden after a loved one passes away. Thankfully, qualifying families can often get financial help from:

  • State and local funding: Some states run programs that provide assistance for funerals, burials, and cremations. Check what’s available in your state. You may also find that your city has a program that can help pay for final expenses.
  • Medicaid: Low-income families are often eligible for assistance from state-run Medicaid programs. Since individual states operate their own programs, you’ll need to see what’s available in the state where you reside. For instance, Michigan’s Medicaid program has a program that provides $475 for funeral services, $145 for a cemetery, and $100 to offset the cost of a vault. Rhode Island, similarly, pays up to $900 for funeral expenses via its Medicaid program.
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): When deaths occur in a federally declared disaster area, victims are often eligible for burial assistance services.
  • Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): If your loved one was a veteran, you should be eligible for VA benefits. The current maximum VA burial allowance is $2,000.
  • Social Security: Surviving spouses or eligible children can receive a one-time death payment of $255. Depending on your situation, you may also qualify for survivor’s benefits from the Social Security Administration. These can be used to help cover final expenses.

 

FEMA COVID-19 funeral assistance

Following the passage of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, FEMA has begun paying funeral expenses for individuals who succumb to COVID-19.

If your loved one passed away due to COVID-19 after January 20, 2020, you must present a death certificate stating the cause of death. At present, FEMA COVID-19 aid recipients can receive a maximum of $9,000 per deceased person. The application maximum is $35,500.

 

Tips for saving on funeral costs

As families can expect to pay over $15,000 in fees, it’s very important to understand funeral expenses and know what you’re buying.

Even basic services can lead to a lot of debt. Here are some simple steps to significantly reduce funeral expenses:

  1. Ask for the general price list — All funeral homes are required by law to show you a general price list upon request. Many funeral homes will verbally inflate their prices, hoping you agree to them. However, they are required to honor the rates shown on their general price list regardless of what they state verbally. Every price list will have a separate line entry for each item. It is your right only to purchase the services and goods that you want.
  2. Shop around — Call four to seven funeral homes to get estimates on the services you are interested in.
  3. Keep your budget a secret — Don’t tell the funeral homes how much money you have to spend. If they ask you what your budget is, simply say, “I’m not sure, but it won’t be much. What’s the best you can do?”
  4. Consider buying a casket/urn separately — You aren’t required to purchase a casket, urn, prayer cards, or flowers directly from the funeral home. All of those items are typically up-charged by the funeral home, and alternatives can be a great deal cheaper. For example, Costco actually sells caskets and urns.
  5. Don’t insist on a viewing — Embalming and body preparation are often not required unless the body is not buried within a specific time. Ask about refrigeration.
  6. Consider a direct cremation/burial — A direct cremation is a simple cremation without a funeral service of any kind. A direct burial is a burial service that does not include any sort of service or funeral ceremony. Either can cut thousands from the cost. Some of the cheapest funeral costs are for direct cremation. That could be followed by an at-home service. This can be a difficult choice, however, as many families may not want to host a full service themselves.

Organizations like the Funeral Consumers Alliance also offer tips and resources for minimizing the costs of funerals, burials, and cremations. See the FCA’s detailed overview of your legal rights after a loved one dies to get more savings tips.

The FCA’s four-step funeral planning guide also gives you an easy-to-follow game plan for funerals and burials that don’t break the bank.

When dealing with funeral homes, always ask for the general price list and double-check for changes. Know that a funeral home cannot force you to make unnecessary purchases, like caskets with “sealer” or gilded memorial prints.

Use the numbers in this article to help you create a baseline and budget, but remember that prices will vary a great deal depending on where you are. You can also print this official FTC checklist for funeral expenses and use it as you price shop or compare your options.

If a funeral home includes a fee not listed on the official FTC checklist, never be shy to ask what it is and why it’s there.

 

Frequently asked questions

What is the average cost of a funeral in 2021?

Funeral and burial costs without a vault (U.S. median): $7,843

Funeral and burial costs with a vault (U.S. median): $9,420

Flower displays, cemetery plots, headstone costs, obituaries, and other expenses will add to your total.

 

What is the average cost of a cremation in 2021?

Currently, the median U.S. cost of a cremation is $6,970. That includes all of the typical funeral service fees.

 

What are reasonable funeral costs?

The answer depends on your state and region. Use the FTC checklist for typical funeral expenses. Don’t be afraid to question any funeral home fees that don’t appear on that list. Also, know that you can shop around. Ask for a general price list, and decline any services you don’t feel are necessary (embalming, for instance, isn’t required by law).

See our regional breakdown above for more information about costs in different areas of the U.S.

 

What is the cheapest funeral option?

In most cases, the least expensive funeral option is a direct cremation and at-home service. When you go this route, you only incur the costs of cremation and costs associated with having a funeral at your home. You avoid the costs of funeral home services, a casket, a vault, and cemetery fees. You’ll likely save thousands this way, but it can be a difficult choice. Many grieving families don’t want the added burden of hosting an event.

 

How do you bury someone with no money?

Direct cremation is the least expensive option for most families. If your family qualifies for Medicaid, your state may offer funds to offset end-of-life expenses. You may also be eligible for assistance from FEMA, the VA, Social Security, or other state and local programs. See our list of funeral assistance resources for more information.

 

What if you can’t afford a funeral?

Funerals don’t have to be expensive. Families choosing direct cremation and at-home funerals can avoid nearly all of the typical expenses associated with funerals and burials. If you’re concerned about future funeral expenses for yourself or a loved one, look at the current burial insurance rates to find a policy you can afford. You might be surprised at how inexpensive it is to maintain a policy that protects your family from the high costs of a traditional funeral and burial.

 

Further resources