By David Pitt, AP Personal Finance Writer
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A funeral is one of the steepest expenses we'll face but many important decisions are made emotionally rather than with a close eye on costs.
"It doesn't matter how much you spend, it doesn't make a person any less dead. It doesn't mean you love them any more or less and it isn't going to bring them back," said Josh Slocum, executive director of Funeral Consumers Alliance, a Vermont-based nonprofit advocacy group.
He said funerals should be treated like any other consumer transaction by comparing costs and services. Charges at different funeral homes in the same metropolitan area can vary by thousands of dollars, so it pays to shop around.
A federal law enforced by the Federal Trade Commission makes comparison shopping much easier today than it was a generation ago.
The law, called the funeral rule, requires funeral directors to provide an itemized list of services and their costs. It was designed to ease the pressure on consumers to buy bundled services, some of which they may not need.
The rule also stopped funeral directors from forcing consumers to buy a casket from them, often at inflated prices. Funeral homes must accept a casket or urn purchased elsewhere.
In recent years, competition has increased with online and discount retailers offering consumers more choices than ever. Caskets, for example, can be bought from Wal-Mart and Costco. It's all good for consumers, who for decades had little choice but to buy from their local funeral home, said Matthew Contor, an antitrust attorney and partner with the New York-based law firm Constantine Cannon.
"If we allow for competition to flourish rather than for it to be stunted, consumers will have the opportunity to get the most quality and least cost for funeral products and services," he said.