For the first time in history, about half of all Americans are choosing to be cremated after death. That’s twice as many as the number who chose that option 15 years ago.
The cremation industry — yes, it’s an industry — grew at a rate of about 2 percent per year between 2010 and 2015, industry sources report. While the United States cremation rate has reached 50 percent, it’s at nearly 70 percent in Canada, and the Cremation Association of North America expects the numbers to keep rising.
Price is usually the main driver. Cremation typically costs between $2,000 and $4,000 if arranged through a funeral home, or between $1,500 and $3,000 if arranged directly through a crematory, according to caring.com. A cemetery burial, which includes the cost of the plot, casket and grave ceremony, averages about $7,000 but often costs far more when related expenses are included, such as an upgraded casket, the service, flowers, grave marker and more.
Another reason cremations are on the rise is that they generally require less planning. Loved ones need not be pressured to arrange an immediate service but can take home the ashes and plan for a future memorial at a convenient time and place. Cremation may also be considered more private, less stressful and even more organic for those who prefer to leave their loved ones’ ashes in places to which they were connected.
But there are reasons for concern. Last year, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America released a joint survey showing that some funeral directors engage in deceptive practices, including attaching unexpected fees that substantially boost cremation costs. For example, “direct cremations” — the most basic offered — include containers made of cardboard or other flimsy material, and families learn later that more substantial ones can be purchased at much higher costs, or they can provide their own. The survey also found that:
- Twenty-two percent of funeral homes advertise prices that don’t include the cremation itself. This happens because, although the Federal Trade Commission has rules about funeral pricing, the FTC specifically doesn’t require disclosure of bundled services, which can keep advertised prices artificially low.
- Twenty-three percent of funeral homes fail to inform consumers about all available cremation options — a violation of an FTC rule that requires such disclosures.
Incidental costs that can drive up the total cost of a cremation include:
- Getting an original death certificate and copies
- Obtaining a certificate releasing the body for cremation, usually issued by a medical examiner or coroner
- Transporting the body from the place of death to the place of cremation
- Disposing of the cremains by burying or scattering them
- Removing a pacemaker
- Handling charges paid to funeral industry personnel (if involved)
- Purchasing or renting a casket or container
Although these items can add a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to the total, the one that’s potentially the priciest is a casket — which can cost from $500 for a simple wooden version to $35,000 or more for an ornate style. Many people who choose cremation don’t buy a casket, but some prefer to have one during a funeral or memorial service at which the body will be present — before cremation occurs.