Funeral industry trying to hold the line as costs soar

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With the cost of everything on the rise as inflation pummels the U.S., the funeral industry, like all others, is encountering higher costs.

But data indicates the industry is trying to absorb some of the financial pain its customers are facing at a time when they need it most. 

But Insiders warn funeral homes may not be able to continue holding down rates much longer.

The funeral industry is trying to keep burial prices at bay as inflation soars. (iStock / iStock)

While the latest consumer price index from the Labor Department shows inflation rose 8.6% annually in May, the cost of funeral services only went up 2.7%.

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Compare that to the agency's report from 2017 showing that the price of funerals had risen nearly twice the rate of inflation for all consumer items over the three decades prior.

Industry leaders told FOX Business they are doing everything in their power to absorb the costs, but it's a hefty challenge. This means that consumers, already squeezed by price increases from everyday goods, groceries and gas, could face higher funeral bills. 

"Funeral home owners, managers and advisors are going to do what they can to hold the bottom line together. But, at the same time, in some point in time, it's got to change," New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association CEO George Kelder told FOX Business. 

Kelder, who has been a licensed funeral director for over 40 years, said funeral homes are generally "mindful to keep their charges within the norms of what their local markets can afford as well as any competitive pressure influences" and will reevaluate pricing and make adjustments to their offerings every one to two years. 

However, due to the financial pressures for "deliveries, supplies, fuel and the like, price changes are now occurring every three to six months," he said. 

Labor Department data shows the price of funeral expenses has increased at a much lower pace of inflation than the average consumer price index. (iStock / iStock)

Even though it's a caring industry, Kelder said, providers are still running businesses.

"We are also coming out of an intense 2½ years of [a] pandemic, so we can’t simply brush off everything that is financially affecting our ability to deliver those goods and services while endangering our ability to survive in the current rapidly changing market," he added. 

Still, even with the added pressures, some funeral homes are "sitting tight until they absolutely must adjust pricing." 

Jennifer Cooper Finnerty, director of community relations for Rose Family Funeral Home & Cremation in Simi Valley, California, told FOX Business the company tries "very hard not to pass on higher costs" to families but acknowledged it had to raise prices some to manage its own soaring costs.

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"Crematory operators have increased their fees. Casket supply companies have increased their fees. Even paper costs for things such as memorial programs and prayer cards have increased," she said. "And, of course, fuel … increased fuel costs have most definitely had an impact." 

Kelder warned that "if we don't see the stock market rally and fuel prices go down and interest rates adjust and inflation gets where it needs to be, every facet of life is about to change, including the funeral arrangements." 

Due to today's economic environment, families are already strapped for cash. The added financial burden of a funeral is an expense many households cannot absorb. The median price tag for a funeral last year, including a burial and a casket, was $7,848, according to the National Funeral Directors Association's latest data.

Kelder said he has never seen so many people contacting his office seeking financial assistance to pay for a funeral. 

Funeral industry insiders say they has seen a sharp uptick in requests for financial assistance from customers. (iStock / iStock)

"It's a phenomenon I've never, never seen before," he said. "These are individuals that just got by in paying their rent, if they even did that, or just got by paying their utilities, and now they have death."

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Still, Finnerty said, families are handling the costs the same way they always have, "by pre-arranging and pre-paying for their funeral, setting up a GoFundMe to help with costs and having multiple family members/friends chip in to help financially."

FOX Business' Megan Henney contributed to this report.

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