Washington DC/Burlington VT September 12, 2016 – Today, the Funeral Consumers Alliance and the Consumer Federation of America released a survey of 142 representative funeral homes showing that more than one-fifth (23%) fail to tell consumers about their options for simple cremations, in violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s “Funeral Rule,” which requires specified price disclosures on a list and verbally (but not on a website).
Moreover, 22 percent are advertising prices for simple cremations that don’t include the cremation itself. Consumers at these funeral homes will face unexpected fees ranging from $200 to $595 above the advertised cost for “Direct Cremation.”
These anti-consumer practices affect hundreds of thousands of American families each year. The rate of cremation equaled the rate of burial for the first time in 2015. About 1.6 million American families will choose cremation for a loved one who dies this year.
The new report supplements an October 2015 survey that found only 25 percent of funeral homes fully disclosed their prices online. In July of 2016, Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) formally requested that the FTC re-open the Funeral Rule for amendments, including a new requirement for funeral homes to publish their complete prices on their websites. Today, FCA and CFA are calling on the FTC to ensure that funeral homes obey existing law and also expand this law to also eliminate egregious practices, such as the failure of some homes to include the cost of the cremation itself in the price of cremation services.
“Since 1984, funeral homes have been required to tell customers they have the right to buy a simple, no-frills cremation, and that they have the right to purchase a container or casket from outside the funeral home,” said Joshua Slocum, Executive Director of Funeral Consumers Alliance. “We found a significant minority of businesses that fail to alert consumers to these options, depriving grieving customers of the ability to control costs through free choice.”
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Cremation Prices Vary Substantially
FCA and CFA analyzed 142 price lists from funeral homes in 10 metropolitan regions. Researchers looked for the FTC-required disclosures and prices for Direct Cremations:
-The price of Direct Cremation when the customer supplies their own casket or cardboard “alternative container” to hold the body prior to cremation, such as a homemade casket or a container bought from a third-party retailer
-The price of Direct Cremation when the customer buys the funeral home’s least-expensive alternative container
Researchers also visited the websites of these same funeral homes. In every metropolitan region, prices for the same Direct Cremation varied so widely it is clear how important consistent and accurate price disclosures are for consumer families.
“This extreme price variation provides compelling evidence of the need for effective price disclosure,” noted Stephen Brobeck, CFA’s Executive Director. “Accurate price disclosure on all funeral home websites would certainly restrain those homes that clearly are gouging consumers today,” he added.
Some Funeral Homes Violate Current FTC Funeral Rule
While all surveyed funeral homes listed a price for Direct Cremation, more than 20 percent failed to list prices and options for consumers who buy an outside casket or container. Most often, these funeral homes offered one price with the container included, directly contradicting the Funeral Rule’s requirement to “unbundle” merchandise and services.
Some Funeral Homes Exploit Funeral Home Loophole to Disclose a Cremation Price That Fails to Include the Cremation of the Body
Remarkably, the report also found that 31 of 142 funeral homes (22 percent) are advertising a price for Direct Cremation that does not include the cremation of the body. Many funeral homes use third-party crematories. These typically charge $250 to $400 to cremate a body, a cost that is passed along to consumers. But it is inherently deceptive to list a Direct Cremation service for, say, $1,500, and then surprise the client family with an additional charge of many hundreds of dollars for the very service they thought they were buying.
“Countless consumers have told us they were baffled at how a funeral home can advertise a price for a simple cremation that doesn’t actually include the cremation,” FCA’s Josh Slocum said. “They ask a good question: What am I paying for in this Direct Cremation if it doesn’t include cremation?”
The Funeral Rule does not require funeral homes to include what are known as “cash advance” charges within their Direct Cremation fee. Instead, funeral homes may list them separately, and there is no requirement to list them directly next to the advertised price for Direct Cremation. This led to an unintended consequence: Too many funeral homes omit this fee from their advertised charge, making Direct Cremation prices seem artificially low. As part of our request to the FTC to amend the Funeral Rule, FCA and CFA urge the Commission to close this loophole.
FCA is nonprofit organization founded in 1963 to protect the consumer’s right to choose a meaningful and affordable funeral. More than 70 local educational groups are included in FCA’s national federation.
CFA is a nonprofit association of more than 250 pro-consumer groups that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education.