The survey revealed significant price differences – for example, from $2,580 to $13,800 for a full-service funeral — and the failure of most funeral homes to disclose their prices adequately: Only 38 of the 150 homes (25%) fully disclosed prices on their websites, while 24 (16%) failed to fully disclose prices both on their website and in response to an email and a phone call.
“Most funeral homes need to give consumers much better access to price information,” said Josh Slocum, FCA’s Executive Director. “The Federal Trade Commission should update antiquated disclosure rules developed in the pre-Internet 1980s, just as California has successfully done,” he added. For example, California requires funeral homes to disclose on their websites the same prices the FTC requires funeral homes to disclose by phone or in an in-person visit. Thirteen of 15 surveyed California funeral homes fully disclosed prices on their websites.
“The huge price ranges for identical funeral services within individual areas indicate that these markets lack effective competition,” noted Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s Executive Director. “The lack of price competition is unfortunate given the relatively high cost of funeral services and the reluctance of many bereaved consumers to comparison shop for these services,” he added.
The research was undertaken this year by FCA with assistance from its local affiliates in Atlanta, District of Columbia, Philadelphia, Mercer Co. (NJ), Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Denver, Tucson, Orange Co. (CA), and Seattle.
In each of these ten areas, 15 funeral homes were randomly selected for study, making certain that at least one home from any large chain was included. The researchers searched the websites of these funeral homes for price information. If the website failed to disclose prices completely, the researchers emailed the funeral home for these prices. If the email did not elicit the price information, the researchers phoned the funeral home. In several instances, a researcher visited the funeral home to obtain price information.
Prices Vary Significantly, Even Within Individual Areas
Three types of service were priced – direct cremation without ceremony, immediate burial without ceremony or the cost of a casket, and full-service funeral including the following items: basic services of the funeral director and staff, transport of the body from place of death to funeral home, embalming, other preparation of the body, viewing or calling hours, funeral ceremony with casket present, hearse to cemetery, sedan or limousine for family, and graveside ceremony.
As the table below shows, prices for the same funeral services within individual areas almost always varied by at least 100 percent and often varied by more than 200 percent.
Table 1: Low and High Prices ($s) for Funeral Services
Direct Cremation Immediate Burial Full Service Funeral
Low High Low High Low High
Atlanta 850 3640 1195 5200 3370 11050
DC 1295 7595 1410 6800 3770 13800
Philadelphia 1365 3345 1080 3600 4135 7990
Mercer Co. (NJ) 1300 4315 850 4040 3710 6605
Indianapolis 895 3295 1295 4365 2700 6415
Minneapolis 750 3000 650 3395 2580 7855
Denver 1055 2840 1260 2945 2600 7855
Tucson 649 2440 640 3140 2630 8140
Orange Co. (CA) 795 3540 985 4395 3854 10075
Seattle 495 3390 690 3395 2805 5515
“Since each area has dozens of funeral homes, the range of prices is certainly greater than that revealed by our sample of 15 homes in each area,” noted CFA’s Brobeck.
Price Disclosures Often Incomplete and Difficult to Obtain
Researchers examined whether a complete general price list was included on the website of funeral homes. If the funeral homes did not do so, the researchers sent them an email requesting the price information. If the funeral homes failed to respond or responded inadequately, the researchers called them. Despite these efforts by researchers, some funeral homes did not provide any price information or provided this information only in a personal visit.
The table below reveals the extent to which funeral homes in the sample disclosed prices fully and how these prices were obtained.
Table 2: How Price Information Was Obtained
Found on website 38 (25%)
Provided after an email 44 (29%)
Provided after a phone call 44 (29%)
Provided after a personal visit
or could not obtain 24 (16%)
The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule was issued in 1984 and amended in 1994. It requires funeral homes to provide only price information over the phone or a price list to those visiting the home. It does not require disclosure on the websites of funeral homes.
“The FTC needs to require funeral homes to disclose prices clearly and completely on their websites,” said FCA’s Slocum. “This disclosure will greatly increase consumer search for price information. It will also allow journalists, consumer information services, and consumer groups to much more easily research, compare, and report on prices,” Slocum added.
FCA and CFA are submitting this research to the FTC and are urging the agency to update the Funeral Rule.
FCA is nonprofit organization founded in 1963 to protect the consumer’s right to choose a meaningful and affordable funeral. More than 70 local educational groups are included in FCA’s national federation.
CFA is a nonprofit association of more than 250 pro-consumer groups that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.