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How to pay for a funeral

This guide explores the common costs associated with a funeral and how to pay for one without life insurance or money.

Catherine Collins
December 14, 2023

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In a world where many costs are on the rise, knowing how to pay for a funeral is an important financial consideration. If you unexpectedly have to pay for a funeral now or don’t want to burden your family in the future, the following guide can help. 

The average cost of a funeral hovers around the price of a used car, so it’s important to plan ahead of time so your family is prepared. And, if you’re caught off guard by funeral prices and can’t afford to pay, several options and programs can help.

Understanding funeral costs

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the median cost of a traditional funeral across America in 2021 was $7,848. For cremations, it’s only slightly less, at approximately $6,971. In either case, the final expense is a significant financial burden, and often a surprise to families who aren’t fully prepared.

Many people who assume they know how much a funeral will cost still underestimate by quite a bit. In a OnePoll for Titan Caskets survey, even the 41% of survey respondents who thought they were “very knowledgeable” about funeral costs gave an average guess of $5,810 for the cost of a funeral, which is $2,000 below the 2021 median cost. 

Here’s a breakdown of the typical costs of a funeral. While not all of these are fees and costs for every funeral service, they can give you a general idea of what to expect.

  • Basic services fee: $2,300
  • Transfer of remains to a funeral home: $350
  • Embalming: $775
  • Other preparations of the body: $275
  • Use of facilities for viewing: $450
  • Use of facilities for ceremony: $515
  • Hearse: $350
  • Service Vehicle: $150
  • Printed materials: $183
  • Metal burial casket: $2,500
  • Funeral plot: $3,581

As mentioned, these costs can vary, especially from state to state. Higher cost of living areas tend to have more costly funerals, but there is also a large amount of discretion for the bereaved, depending on what services one would like for the funeral. Don’t be afraid to ask the funeral home about different options that might be more within your budget and which services are optional. 


Life insurance and funeral expenses

Does life insurance cover funeral costs? 

Life insurance can help to cover funeral costs, depending on the insurance. When you purchase insurance from your life insurance company, there is typically an option for standard funeral insurance as part of it. This covers the cost of the funeral or cremation. 

The standard death benefits for funerals generally range from low to midrange – $5,000 to $25,000. The funeral insurance is paid directly to the beneficiary in a lump sum after death to help cover the cost, which they can use at their discretion. Medical debt, legal fees, and funeral costs can all be paid for by funeral insurance. 

Some people want to go a step further in their preparations and purchase pre-need funeral insurance. This special fund is set aside explicitly to help with the funeral cost. It will cover the cost of a traditional funeral as pre-arranged by the buyer. One benefit of this approach is that it protects against inflation of funeral costs, as the price is locked in early. However, it differs from standard funeral life insurance in that it is paid directly to the funeral home, not given to a beneficiary to use as needed. 

How to pay for a funeral with no money

Unfortunately, some people have to pay for a funeral with little to nothing saved for it. Here are a few options to consider for how to pay for a funeral without life insurance.

Traditional options

  1. Contributions from family and friends. Often, family members and friends are willing to help in times of need, so asking for help with these unexpected expenses is fair.
  2. Veteran’s benefits. Veteran’s benefits come in two types: one is a $300 compensation for a non-service related death, and the other is $2,000 for a death related to one’s military service. 
  3. Funeral loans. You can take out loans to pay for funerals. This should only be used as a last resort, as there are many alternative methods you can consider first.

Alternative options

  1. Crowdfunding. Many sites exist that can help set up a funeral fundraiser to raise funds from the public. Some sites specialize directly in funerals, like Fund the Funeral, or you can use one of the more general-purpose crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. Fund the Funeral is helpful because it directly pays the funeral home, simplifying the process and minimizing fraud.
  2. Funeral expense assistance programs. Different states have various methods of financial assistance for funeral expenses. For example, California can help through victim compensation laws, while Maine has a General Assistance program that offers up to $1,125. Social Security offers a $225 death benefit for families with enough employment credits, and FEMA can help pay for funerals for disaster victims.
  3. Payment plans with funeral homes. Although most funeral homes don’t offer them and prefer upfront payment, some will offer a payment plan. This will let you pay for the funeral in installments, making the overall expense easier to cover over time.
  4. Home equity loan. If you own a home and have equity in it, another option is to get a home equity loan, HELOC, or a Home Equity Investment (HEI). With an HEI, there are no monthly payments, which can help you focus on paying for a funeral instead of worrying about loan payments.

Final thoughts

Funerals are important memorials to those we love. They provide a chance to celebrate someone's life and give closure to family and friends. They also come with a hefty price—one that often comes as a shock to those responsible for the bill. 

Worrying about how to cover shouldn't add to an already difficult time. If you find yourself unexpectedly having to pay for a funeral while grieving, remember that your community, state, and even federal programs can provide funeral assistance. Crowdsourcing can also be an option. Ultimately, it's not just about affording a funeral service; it's about affording dignity and a moment to reflect on a well-lived life.

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