Last year was an unprecedented year in the death care industry. The funeral industry was unexpectedly thrust into a crisis as COVID-19 deaths, and restrictions on social gatherings forced the industry to very quickly adapt as last responders. So, here we review what we can expect for cremation costs in 2021.
Change in the cremation rate 2020
Cremation was already a fast-growing trend that funeral homes were adapting to. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) Cremation & Burial Report projected the cremation rate at 56% for 2020. But in the face of the pandemic, cremation became the only viable disposition option for many families, and funeral homes, faced with making funeral arrangements without holding a funeral service.
Although no data is yet available on the cremation rate for 2020, I expect it to be higher than projected as a result of the unprecedented crisis.
The shift to online cremation price comparison and arrangement
Another trend in funeral consumer behavior is the expectation to find cremation prices online. According to The Foresight Company 2020 Funeral and Cemetery Consumer Study, 75% of people seeking cremation services want transparent online pricing. With 52% claiming they only want to arrange services with a funeral home that provides clear online cremation pricing. This consumer behavior trend could likely continue to impact cremation pricing into 2021 with more funeral homes adopting online price lists. And, as cremation consumers continue to price-shop online, funeral homes will need to adapt their marketing strategies for online cremation consumers.
How 2020 has impacted cremation prices in 2021?
From our observations with the DFS Memorials low-cost cremation network, the impact we have observed is some fluctuation in direct cremation prices going into 2021. With an increased volume of cremation cases and a competitive market for cremation services, I had anticipated the cost of cremation to remain static or even decrease. We have seen prices increase in some cities, and yet decrease in others.
So, why do cremation prices seem to be fluctuating in some areas?
This may be because there is still a comparative shortage of cremation retorts serving some areas. Installing cremation equipment can be costly. Many small funeral homes could not afford to install their own cremation retort as the cremation rate grew. Instead using the trade services of another local crematory. Also, some funeral homes have faced zoning issues when trying to add crematory facilities. Especially, as traditionally funeral homes were located in residential areas. Funeral homes have encountered resistance from residents who have expressed concern about the potential emissions from a crematory nearby.
2021 Breakdown of cremation costs
The price for a cremation service still varies considerably. Even within the same area, you will find different funeral homes and cremation providers charging different prices for a similar service. Therefore, it pays to shop around some. Below we have included a breakdown of the low and high cremation prices in the top most populated metropolitan areas in the United States to give you an idea of how much a cremation cost can vary in a city.
|City||State||Low cost cremation price||Most expensive cremation price|
|New York City||NY||$585||$10,200|
The prices quoted are for a direct cremation service.
What is a direct cremation?
Direct cremation is sometimes referred to as low-cost cremation, basic cremation, or economical cremation. No funeral services are provided as part of the service. The deceased is collected from the place of death, sheltered in refrigeration, the legal paperwork is completed, and then the cremation is conducted. There is no viewing, embalming, or ceremony. Once the cremation is completed, the cremated remains are returned to the family.
It is a simple and direct service which is what keeps the costs down. This simple, affordable, ‘no-fuss’ cremation option is proving a growth trend in the cremation sector. It had been a steadily growing trend, and the pandemic only exacerbated the demand.
Will cremation costs remain the same in 2021?
We would all love to be able to predict the future! But, alas, the best forecasts can be affected by unexpected events. Last year proved that to us all. Funeral homes and crematories in some cities witnessed overwhelming demand for cremations last year. In some cases, older crematories (such as in New York City) simply could not cope with the increased demand. Older equipment overheated trying to keep up with the capacity. Newer cremation equipment can handle a higher capacity of cremations per day, but installing new equipment (or upgrading) is an overhead that a funeral home will need to recover in their costs. Many small independent funeral homes, already coping with declining revenue due to the shift to cremation, cannot afford the overhead (or risk) to now add new cremation equipment.
How the rising costs of gas, cremation permits, and emission regulation may continue to affect cremation prices.
The cost of gas is another factor that could impact cremation prices in 2021. According to a report from Met Group in 2020 forecasting natural gas prices from 2020 to 2025, we are likely to see a rise in price from 2021 due to a few factors.
- The continuing coronavirus pandemic
- The switch to greener, renewable energy sources
- The Saudi Arabia-Russia price wars
Before a cremation can go ahead the local county coroner must issue a cremation permit to the crematory or funeral home. A few years ago, coroners often issued permits at no charge to the funeral director. Today, these permits vary in price depending on the county, and many have increased the charge for issuing a cremation permit significantly. Most cremation permits range from $10.00 to $60.00 but Wisconsin has some of the highest charges in the country. A cremation permit in Milwaukee County costs $357.00.
With the current focus on renewable energy and reducing carbon emissions, it is quite possible that new legislation on monitoring and managing crematory emissions may affect existing crematories. In some EU countries, where the cremation rate has been at 70% (or above) for some years, recent EU emissions legislation meant many crematories had to install new equipment to reduce their emissions. The cost of this resulted in consumer cremation costs increasing.
What alternatives to low-cost cremation may emerge?
Cremation has gained traction in the last decade most significantly because of cost. Yes, there are other influencing factors. But, simply put, for many families direct cremation became the only low-cost alternative to arrange a funeral. Some counties even switched from indigent burial to direct cremation to reduce their budgets for indigent funerals.
However, with more focus on climate change and greener alternatives, new green funeral alternatives are emerging. Water cremation and natural organic reduction (NOR) or human composting are two new greener disposition alternatives. At the moment, both these options are still relatively costly compared to a low-cost direct cremation. Similarly, natural green burial presents a more affordable and natural alternative to cremation, but still costs more than a simple cremation. If there is an increasing interest in natural burial, there is a chance the costs could decrease. A 2019 survey by the NFDA found that almost 52% of Americans expressed an interest in green burial options.
In 2021, a green burial is still going to cost between $3,000 and $5,500, because it is a niche option and there are limited green burial sites and providers. Natural burial potentially could offer a long-term solution to addressing affordability and sustainability in the death care industry. If natural burial could be offered at a comparative cost to cremation.
Pre-planning a direct cremation in 2021
2020 brought death to the forefront of our world. The fear of death shrouded us all for a period of time and still lurks in the corner. The taboo subject of discussing death and dying was given a renewed life.
Are you thinking about the benefits of establishing a cremation plan? Do you want to ensure you have a pre-need plan in place for your own peace of mind and your family?
Pre-arranging a cremation now is a great way to lock in prices. But, do be aware that any plan or policy you take out now will include an incremental cost element to cover future cremation costs.
Another way to pre-plan is to document your final wishes, sign the authorizations, and secure the appropriate funds in a POD bank account. You can adjust the funds annually to reflect the current direct cremation price in your area.
This last year has served to remind us all that nothing endures, that we should make the most of what we have right now. But, it also reminded us that we should be prepared for the unexpected.
As Benjamin Franklin famously quoted “in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes”. It often seems to me that the people have been extorted by both for a century or so. Funerals DO NOT need to be expensive. A simple cremation, or simple burial, can be conducted for less than $1,500. Hopefully, with the online tools we now have, and a greater awareness of researching options, more families will access affordable funeral options in 2021.
The DFS Memorials affordable cremation network aims to help families connect with a local cremation option from an independent funeral home.