How Much Does Cremation Cost?

How Much Does a Cremation Cost?How Much Does a Cremation Cost?

Key Takeaways

  • Typically, cremations are a less expensive alternative than burial.
  • There are three main types of cremations: traditional, memorial and direct.
  • Cremations that involve a viewing, memorial or funeral will cost more than a direct cremation.

When coordinating funeral services, cost isn't the only consideration. That said, the greater affordability of cremation versus burial is one reason behind its growing usage in recent years.

If you're either arranging services for a loved one or pre-planning arrangements for yourself, you may be thinking about cremation costs. Let's explore some of what your family might be expected to pay, depending on the type of service planned and where it takes place.

What Is the Average Cremation Cost?

The median cost of a funeral with a viewing and cremation was $6,970 in 2021, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA).1 This number has climbed in the years since. However, the cost of cremation will vary with a number of factors. For example, cremations with a viewing and a funeral typically cost more than ones where no memorial service is held for family and friends.

The cost your family may expect to pay also depends on where you live. The typical cremation with viewing is highest in the West North Central region, with a median cost of $7,560. They tend to be the most affordable in the Mountain region, with a median cost of just $5,694.1

Cremations are often less expensive than a funeral with a burial, which runs at $7,848 on average.1 You should also consider the cost to purchase a cemetery plot. It can run from just over $1,000 in some parts of the country to nearly $4,000 in higher-cost living areas, such as California, according to the Cremation Institute.2

Types of Cremation

When cremation is elected, another decision is whether to have services for the deceased before or after (or at all). If and how these are performed will affect the total cost.

Traditional Cremation

A traditional cremation is when the deceased is placed into a casket and a funeral service — often precede by a visitation — is held before the cremation. With a nationwide median cost of $6,970, this tends to be the most costly alternative. One reason is that the funeral home has to perform embalming (average cost of $775) and other preparations of the body (average cost of $275). It may also require the purchase of a cremation casket for the service, which adds another $1,310 on average (an alternative, renting one for the viewing only, is usually less expensive).1

Memorial Cremation

Instead of a traditional funeral service, the family may opt to hold a memorial for their loved one. Like a funeral, the memorial service is an opportunity for friends and colleagues to pay their respects to the individual's family and celebrate the life of the deceased. It may also involve the recital of prayers and other religious elements. The difference here is that the body is absent from the memorial. The deceased's ashes though may be there in an urn if the cremation has already taken place.

Because a memorial forgoes expenses for a casket and preservation of the body, it typically costs slightly less than a traditional cremation.

Direct Cremation

With a direct cremation, there's no viewing of a deceased person beforehand. Rather, the body is sent directly to a crematory, whose staff often helps complete the death certificate and any other required documentation. Because a direct cremation eliminates the need for a funeral home to host a memorial — or prepare the body for viewing — it involves the least cost.

The cost for direct cremation, or simple cremations, as they're sometimes called, can range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, according to the Cremation Institute.3

Other Factors That Affect Cremation Costs

The type of cremation service selected usually has the biggest impact on cost. However, not all traditional or memorial cremations have a similar price tag. In determining how much a cremation may cost, also consider these factors:

  • The cremation container. Families may choose to have their loved one cremated in a wooden cremation casket (average cost of $1,310). But there are more cost-effective options. For example, the remains can be cremated in a container made of cardboard or another alternative material, which can have a median cost of just $150.1
  • The funeral home. If you choose a more traditional service, a funeral home may charge a fee of around $450 to host the visitation and $515 to provide staff for the funeral. But, as with any business, some funeral homes charge more than others. In general, you might pay more if you live in a more expensive part of the country, such as a large metropolitan area.
  • The urn. The median cost that funeral homes charge for an urn is $295. Depending on the materials used and the design, however, the cost of the urn can run significantly more.1
  • The disposition of the remains. Choosing to to bury a loved one's ashes in a cemetery plot — or storing them in a columbarium — can quickly drive up the price. Nationwide, the average cost for a burial plot is $2,500, according to the Cremation Institute.4

How to Pay for Cremation

While cremation tends to be somewhat less expensive than a traditional burial, it nonetheless represents a considerable outlay for many families. You can help alleviate financial strain on your loved ones by making arrangements in advance and helping ensure the necessary funds to cover the associated costs are available. Among your options:

  • Life insurance. If you have life insurance, the insurance company will pay a lump sum death benefit to your beneficiaries when you die. It can help cover final expenses, such as cremation. Importantly, the life insurance death benefit ordinarily doesn't have to go through the probate process, which means heirs typically receive funds in a more timely manner.
  • Prepaid cremation. Most funeral homes allow you to pay for cremation ahead of time through installments. By taking care of costs in advance, you can help your family members grieve without the added pressure of having to pay for your final expenses.
  • Savings. Another option is to open a payable-on-death (POD) bank account that your beneficiary can access only when you pass away. By properly funding your account, your loved ones will have the means to pay for the cremation without hardship.
  • Government/nonprofit assistance. Some states and municipalities offer financial aid to eligible families to help pay for a burial or cremation. Generally, eligibility is limited to low-income residents who demonstrate financial need according to the program guidelines. In addition, some churches and other religious congregations may provide financial support to families in need.

Planning a Cremation

Cremation services can take many forms. To ensure your intentions are fulfilled and that your family can mourn your loss without worrying about financial stress, it's important to prepare for your final expenses while you're still in good health.

Create a Financial Plan

A will can help your loved ones better understand your wishes for an eventual cremation or burial. It may also be helpful to establish a trust, which can allow you to specify in greater detail how you would like your remaining assets used — including those designated for final expenses. One of the advantages of a trust is that it generally avoids probate, giving your loved ones quicker access to funds they may need to address funeral services.

A financial professional can help you determine whether a revocable or irrevocable trust better addresses your needs. They can also recommend how to fund the trust, which often is done through an insurance policy or a bank account.

Shop for Cremation Services

Making your own funeral arrangements in advance can help alleviate stress for your loved ones and help ensure you receive the farewell you envision for yourself. Shopping for services at multiple funeral homes can also allow you to evaluate providers and compare pricing.

By visiting the funeral home now, you can better understand what types of cremation services are available and get an idea of what amenities, including the cremation casket and urn, you desire. With a better idea of the overall cost, it can become easier to create a financial plan for your loved ones. You may even decide to engage in a pre-pay arrangement with the provider. Doing so may help your family avoid having to get involved in decision-making immediately following your passing.

Alternatives to Cremation

Price could be one of the reasons why you or a family member may choose cremation. Because it doesn't necessarily require a premium casket or preparations of the body, such as embalming, the average cost of cremation tends to be lower than that of a burial. It also may not require the purchase of a cemetery plot, an expense which adds to the overall price.

In addition to the financial considerations, cremation has other advantages. Cremated remains can take up little space or be scattered in a specified area by loved ones — although you'll need to do so in accordance with local, state and federal laws. Cremation also offers flexibility when it comes to planning the goodbye. Because the funeral or memorial can take place after the cremation itself, families can arrange for these events when it's most convenient for all those involved.

If you prefer a burial but the cost is a concern, you might consider forgoing a funeral or memorial, which can come with higher costs due to staffing and preparations. You may also want to think about a "green burial," in which the body is laid to rest in a biodegradable container — often made of wicker or cardboard — instead of a traditional casket. This increasingly popular method not only cuts down on the cost but represents an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the cheapest way to be cremated?

A direct cremation is generally the most affordable option. In a direct, or simple, cremation, the body is sent directly to the crematory, and the remains are then placed in an urn or other appropriate container. The family doesn't hire a funeral home to prepare a viewing, memorial or funeral service. The family still may decide to hold a separate event at a convenient date.

Because of their simplicity, direct cremations can cost as little as a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, per the Cremation Institute.3

How much does the most basic cremation cost?

Cremations can take many forms based on the wishes of the diseased and their loved ones. While some families might prefer to have a memorial service or funeral before or after the cremation, others may choose to forgo those events — in such an instance, it would be called a direct cremation. Due to their more straightforward nature, these simplified cremations are usually the most affordable version of cremation.

According to the Cremation Institute, a group of industry experts, direct cremations typically cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.3

Will the state pay for cremation?

Several states offer financial assistance to help low-income families pay for the cost of a burial or cremation. Typically, they offer a limited reimbursement amount that covers some or all of the cost of a basic service.

Depending on where you live, the family member may have to show that they're currently receiving welfare assistance from the state or meet other financial eligibility criteria to qualify. If you live in a state that doesn't provide such assistance, you should check with your county or municipality to see if it offers a program.

What factors impact the cost of cremation services?

Many factors influence the total cost of cremation. Typically, the biggest single determinant is the type of cremation service that's performed. Funeral homes usually charge more for cremations with a funeral or memorial service that they arrange. And if there's a visitation or viewing, there may be fees for preparing the body (e.g., embalming) and a casket purchase or rental. Even factors such as the type of cremation container and urn may influence the pricing.

Finally, the cost will vary based on where you live. According to the NFDA, the cost is highest in the Plains states (such as Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska) and most affordable in the Mountain region (including such states as Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah).1

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  1. 2021 NFDA General Price List Study Shows Funeral Costs Not Rising as Fast as Rate of Inflation.
  2. Cemetery Burial Plots Buyer's Guide: How Much Should You Pay?.
  3. Direct Cremation Guide: How It Works & What Should You Pay?.
  4. Cremation Costs Breakdown 2023: How You Can Save $5,422.

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