The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is updating its Funeral Rule, first enacted in 1984, which is credited with reducing fraud and deception in the funeral business.

While the existing Rule requires funeral homes to disclose price information to potential clients who visit their businesses in person, it does not require them post price information on their websites or provide it via email or text messages, if requested.

Click below to listen to our Consumerpedia podcast episode on how to navigate planning a funeral.

An FTC survey released last week found that more than 60 percent of U.S. funeral home websites provide “little or no information about their prices.” Agency staff visited nearly 200 websites of funeral homes across the country between June and September of 2021, during the height of the pandemic, when many grieving families could not or did not want to visit a funeral home.

“In most instances, people viewing these websites would have a difficult time determining what prices were charged by a provider or comparing prices between providers,” the staff report concluded. “Consumers planning funerals would, in almost all instances, need to contact the businesses directly or visit the providers in person to get enough information to make informed price decisions or to compare price.”

Last week, the FTC issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, outlining possible amendments to the Funeral Rule, including whether funeral homes should be required to display their price information online and by other electronic means (such as text and email)—and if so, how.

Modernizing the Funeral Rule would “help consumers make informed decisions during some of the most difficult moments of their lives,” and could also “better incentivize funeral homes to offer the most competitive prices,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan.

Stephen Brobeck, senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America, commended the commission on its unanimous vote to move forward with the rulemaking process. “Online price disclosure would cost funeral homes virtually nothing, and would benefit all consumers, not just those who compare prices,” he said.

“Research has shown that the easy availability of price information discourages price gouging,” Brobeck noted. “In part, this is because third parties, such as consumer groups and journalists, can access and report on prices much more easily,” he added.

The National Funeral Directors Association told Checkbook it supports price transparency and clarity, but its members do not think “a rigid federal rule” is the best was to achieve this. They support a “free market” and state regulation, if necessary.

A Unique and Costly Purchase

The death of a loved one is the first time most people contact a funeral home—or even consider the costs involved. Planning a funeral is an emotional experience; it's also an expensive process that typically needs to be done quickly.

The median cost of a funeral (with a viewing and burial) in the U.S. in 2021 was approximately $7,848, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The median cost of a funeral with cremation was approximately $6,971. These industry figures do not include cemetery costs, charges for flowers, or the price of a grave monument or marker.

Checkbook's undercover shoppers have found massive differences of as much as 300 to 500 percent between funeral homes in the same metro area for the same services. A few examples for common elements of a traditional funeral:

  • Embalming ranged from $350 to $995.
  • The cost of the hearse ranged from $195 to $565.
  • The least expensive oak casket ranged from $1,010 to $5,085. (Note: You don't have to buy your casket from the funeral home.)

The Federal Trade Commission's Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to maintain detailed price lists, and to provide those lists to potential customers who visit them and discuss funeral services. This rule is credited with reducing fraud and deception in the funeral business. The rule, enacted in 1984, does not require funeral homes to post their price lists online.

A new report from Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) finds that relatively few funeral homes post their prices online. Last month, the two consumer groups visited 1,046 funeral home websites in 35 state capitals, and found that only 191 of these homes (18 percent) posted their general price list.

Consumer groups, including Checkbook, believe a requirement for online price disclosure is long overdue, and much needed by cost-conscious consumers who don’t want or can’t visit numerous funeral homes.

“Most consumers, especially those out-of-town or having to deal with a sudden death, cannot practically visit several funeral homes to pick up price lists,” said Joshua Slocum, FCA’s executive director and co-author of the report.

If funeral homes were required to disclose their prices online, Americans would see “how striking the price differences are,” Slocum said. This would give grieving families the information they need to make an informed decision, and “would likely persuade funeral homes charging especially high prices to moderate them.”

The scarcity of pricing information online makes it difficult for those planning a funeral to compare funeral homes, the report noted. It also limits the ability of consumer groups and journalists to collect and share this price information.

“Online price posting would benefit not just those consumers searching for price information, but also all consumers by encouraging price competition and discouraging funeral homes from charging exorbitant prices,” said Stephen Brobeck, a CFA senior fellow and co-author of the report. “[It] could save consumers billions of dollars a year.”

City-by-City Differences

The FCA/CFA website survey found big differences in the percentage of funeral homes posting prices in the 35 cities studied.

In Sacramento, 70 percent of the 45 funeral homes with websites posted prices, even though California requires online posting. The rest “chose to use a loophole in the law to avoid posting,” the report noted.

In Helena, Mont., three of four funeral homes posted prices, and in Topeka, Kan., six of 14 funeral homes posted prices. No funeral homes posted prices in Dover, Del., Frankfurt, Ky., Bismarck, N.D., Pierre, S.D., Cheyenne, Wyo., Santa Fe, N.M., or Jefferson City, Mo.

The survey found that none of the 102 funeral homes in the sample that are affiliated with Dignity Memorial, the country’s largest funeral service company, posted their prices. Dignity Memorial, owned by Service Corporation International, has 1,900 funeral homes in the U.S., or about 10 percent of the funeral home market.

“Past research by FCA and CFA suggests that Dignity Memorial homes tend to charge higher prices than do other funeral homes, which may help explain why they refuse to post prices online,” the report noted.

Dignity Memorial websites have a section on funeral and cremation costs, but those are national averages, not specific prices for that business.

“There is no ‘loophole’ in the law,” the statement said. “We strictly adhere to all local, state and federal laws throughout our network, and in many cases, have added pricing information where not required because we believe it is helpful to the consumer.”

SCI said pricing can vary among funeral homes, even in the same geographic area, because of variables such as the size and quality of the facility, the fleet of cars, and the number of associates on staff. “We always recommend speaking openly about price,” the company said.

People Want This Information

In 2020, the FTC announced that it was considering an update of its Funeral Rule to improve price competition.

The Consumer Federation of America submitted comments to the FTC at that time, urging the commission to require online price disclosure “to more effectively protect consumers and to promote price competition.” Such transparency could even benefit funeral homes “that work hard to control costs and charge reasonable prices because it would be easier for consumers to identify these homes,” CFA argued.

Checkbook also submitted comments, noting that our researchers commonly find many funeral homes are reluctant to provide pricing to our researchers when we conduct our undercover price shopping surveys. We also urged the FTC to require online price disclosure.

The FTC is still considering whether to initiate formal rulemaking. Hoping to prod the commission into acting, CFA commissioned a survey last month, and found strong support for mandatory online price disclosure.

Most Americans (75 percent) said funeral homes that have a website should be required to post their prices online, according to the Ipsos survey of more than 2,000 adults. The survey also found that only 20 percent of the 1,146 respondents who had helped plan a funeral said they had visited more than one funeral home to obtain price lists.

Funeral directors oppose any mandate to post their prices online. Market forces, they say, should control price disclosure, not the government.  

“The fact funeral providers do not consistently post price information online does not cause substantial injuries to consumers,” said Chris Farmer, general counsel for the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA).

“The [Funeral] Rule currently requires a funeral home to provide accurate price information to anyone who telephones the funeral home seeking it,” Farmer told Checkbook. “There is no evidence that consumers who want funeral price information have any problem in obtaining it. Therefore, there is no injury whatsoever, much less substantial injury.”

Farmer said NFDA encourages funeral homes “to be fully transparent in their pricing” because it helps their business in the long run. However, a regulation that requires the online posting of funeral prices, he said, “doesn’t make sense.” He called it “a solution looking for a problem” that has already been addressed “in an organically competitive and superiorly efficient manner.”

Free websites, such as Funeralocity.com and Parting.com, already list prices for funeral homes across the country, Farmer noted. A consumer can put in a location, indicate a radius from that location, and obtain a list from least to most expensive, as well as prices for various services, he said.

Checkbook visited both sites and found that many funeral homes do not participate. Among those that do, prices are typically for packages of services offered, such as traditional full-service burial or cremation, and do not include complete and detailed costs, something funeral directors are required to provide when you visit their offices.

What Can You Do?

Consumer advocates, who hear from families who’ve gone into debt putting a loved one to rest, say there’s nothing wrong with trying to save money when shopping for funeral services. In fact, they advise it. A funeral is a consumer purchase that needs to be evaluated carefully.

Comparison shopping can be time-consuming, especially if funeral homes in your area don’t post their prices online. Checkbook can help. In Checkbook’s seven regions (the San Francisco Bay, Boston, Chicago, Delaware Valley, Puget Sound, Twin Cities, and Washington, D.C. areas) subscribers can access ratings and price information collected by Checkbook’s undercover shoppers, along with advice about funeral planning and reviews from consumers. If there’s time, the smart move is to visit several top-rated funeral homes and request price lists.

“For those that don't post prices, you can send an email requesting a price list. Honest businesses will readily comply.” Slocum said. “You may wish to reconsider doing business with any funeral home that will not.”

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Contributing editor Herb Weisbaum (“The ConsumerMan”) is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and one of America's top consumer experts. He is also the consumer reporter for NW Newsradio in Seattle. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at ConsumerMan.com.