Cremation Costs in 2020: How cremation is disrupting the Funeral Industry

How much should you expect to pay for a cremation service in 2020?

Some of the most frequent questions we are asked these days are about cremation prices.  Now cremation has become mainstream and more Americans are considering cremation.  The Internet has also disrupted a service industry that once relied upon ‘traditional’ families, who would not even ask about funeral prices.  Five years ago, it was extremely rare to see a funeral home website disclose any cremation prices, now there is not only a growing number displaying cremation packages and prices online, but we also have funeral homes Google-advertising price-competitively.

So, what should you expect to pay for a cremation service as we come towards the end of 2019?  Are cremation prices going to go down in 2020 as more funeral homes install crematories?  A simple cremation service costs between $800 and $3,000 today.  The disparity in this price range is largely due to which cremation service provider you select.  All funeral homes have a basic cremation [direct cremation] on their General Price List (GPL).  The price differs by the provider, often based upon their overhead and profit margins.

Most of the states where the cremation rate is higher have funeral service providers offering lower-cost cremation services.  The table below gives some examples of median direct cremation costs in November 2019 in a selection of states and cities.

State City Direct Cremation Cost
California Los Angeles $625
San Francisco $698
Sacramento $695
Washington State-wide $600
Arizona Phoenix $639
Tucson $455
Florida Miami $696
SWFL $895
Orlando $895
Texas Austin $595
San Antonio $595
Houston $640
Dallas/Fort Worth $755
New York New York City $485
Illinois Chicago $995
Pennsylvania Pittsburgh $695
Ohio Columbus $599
Indiana Indianapolis $650

As you can see some of the most populated cities have the lowest cremation prices.  Prices tend to increase in rural areas, or where the cremation rate is lower than the national average. Find your nearest DFS Memorials provider to locate cremation costs.

What is the most popular cremation service?

The cremation rate nationally reached almost 55% last year and is forecast to grow to nearly 80% by 2040.  What is not disclosed is what percent of cremation families select full-service cremation services or just a simple cremation.  There has been a steady growth of interest in “just cremation” services, or what the industry refers to as a ‘direct cremation’.

Projected cremation and burial ratesA direct cremation is a basic cremation without any funeral ceremony performed by the funeral home.  The deceased is collected, cremated and the cremated remains returned directly to the family.  This is also the most economical disposition option available.  It is what families are asking for when they say “I just want a simple cremation…no fuss.”

From our survey with our DFS Memorials network of cremation providers, it is reported that 80% of cremations conducted are direct cremations in 2020.  Time magazine reported on how ‘Cremation Is Now Outpacing Traditional Burial’ with a case study from a funeral home in Boise, Idaho.  Robert Boetticher, Jr., of Cloverdale Funeral Home, shared how when in mortuary school in the 1980s cremation was barely mentioned, and now the cases at his funeral home in Boise are 60% cremation cases.

According to Barbara Kemmis, CANA’s executive director “Cremation has become the new tradition. It’s a seismic shift in the profession.”

So, although the funeral profession does not want to embrace it, it seems that direct cremation services are the popular cremation choice for families today.

How is the cremation trend impacting on cremation costs in 2020?

I have been observing the cremation trend and changes in cremation prices nationally for the last few years now. I would propose we are witnessing an impact on cremation pricing driven by the demand for low-cost direct cremation.  Cremation ‘price wars’ have been instigated in some areas.  With the decline in expensive traditional burials and the growth of simple cremation services, funeral homes’ profit-margins are significantly down.  This has resulted in closures, acquisitions, extended service area coverage and competition on pricing.

Are you happy to make cremation arrangements online?

In order to be able to offer cremation at the most affordable price, some funeral homes have set up a separate cremation business, where they seek to increase volume while reducing overhead.  Some of these cremation businesses offer an ‘online arrangement’ cremation price, as by enabling the consumer to complete all the information and payment online, this saves manpower for the cremation company.

Many of these online portals offer a 4-step process:

  1. Arrange online
  2. Collection of the deceased
  3. Registering the death & conducting the cremation
  4. Returning the cremated remains – by mail or in person.

Direct cremation onlineCremation costs and The Economy in 2020

There have been numerous reports and surveys on the rising cremation trend over the last 10 years.  The majority of these reports conclusively summarize that price has been the driving factor in the shift towards the more affordable alternative of cremation.  One could say that the funeral industry has brought this on themselves with their practice of gauging families with high funeral prices.  Since the economic downturn of 2008, we have seen slow but steady growth in the cremation rate.

CNBC reported in July this year that ‘Many Americans who can’t afford a $400 emergency blame debt’, quoting that 40% of Americans would struggle to raise $400 for an unexpected bill.  Sadly, we are on the brink of what I believe could be an era of funeral poverty.  Counties are struggling with their budgets for indigent funeral requests, as a growing number of low-income families find themselves faced with an unexpected funeral expense.  More counties are allocating their indigent burial budgets to direct cremation instead of burial services to cut costs.

Clearly, there is an intrinsic link between the state of the economy, the rise in the cremation rate and cremation costs.

Memorialization after cremation

There are two fundamental elements to the death care process: disposition of the body and memorialization.  For decades these two elements have been held solely in the domain of the funeral home.  However, cremation has allowed us to separate these two elements.  The disposition of the deceased can be handled clinically by the funeral director.  Cremation has enabled this to handled in a timely manner while removing the need to rush to arrange funeral services.  A memorial service can be held after the cremation, and therefore there is no rush to arrange a ceremony immediately.  This has dis-empowered funeral homes who often felt that we needed their memorialization services in order to grieve.

The rise of Personalization and Cremation

‘Personalization’ has become the new industry buzz word in recent years related especially to cremation services.  Once the cremation is performed and the family has the cremated remains, there are so many options of how to create a personalized memorial.  Families are embracing the flexibility this offers them, and how much money they can save by personally choosing how to commemorate a loved one.

Cremation Memorial ServiceSimple Cremation and baby boomers

There is a lot of talk about how the baby boomers are going to have an impact over the next 10-20 years on the death care industry.  They have re-invented life’s rituals and customs through each era of their lives, and now as they embark on the final journey, it is expected they will lead a re-invention of their final passage.  From surveys conducted with baby boomers, there is definitely an interest in simple cremation.

So, another year of flux for the funeral industry.  It seems on a whole they have finally accepted that cremation is not a passing trend but here to stay.  However, as more funeral businesses try to stay profitable with the expected lower cost of cremation services, I am sure there are more changes on the horizon.

1.Deathcare Services – Statistics & Facts. https://www.statista.com/topics/4731/death-care-services-in-the-us/ Published by E. Mazareanu, Jul 10, 2019

2. The United States Death Care Market Report 2018-2023: Market is Estimated to Reach Revenues of Around $68 Billion

In 2019 there were 19,177 funeral homes in the U.S.  The Provision of funeral homes and cemetery services generated combined revenue of $21 billion USD in 2019.  The main corporate funeral entities have the following shares of the market: SCI 1.9 billion, StoneMor Partners 261.94 million, Carriage Services. 210.7 million.