We are pleased to present our latest comparative price survey of funeral homes in the Greater Columbia area. The survey covers establishments in Columbia, West Columbia, Cayce, Forest Acres, and Lexington. It includes all full-time businesses that are headquartered in those communities. It does not include some part-time branches of funeral homes that do their primary business elsewhere, because it has proved difficult for us to contact them. We began by sending a letter to each funeral home announcing the survey and requesting a copy of its General Price List (GPL). As a courtesy, we included a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the funeral directors to use. Seven of the 19 funeral homes sent us copies, not a bad return since federal regulations do not require them to send price lists by mail. Our volunteer board members collected others by calling on the funeral homes in person. Nearly all the funeral homes we visited supplied their GPLs on request, as federal regulations (the Funeral Rule) require them to do, many of them cheerfully. Unfortunately, there were two glaring exceptions, both operated by the same proprietor. Moseley Funeral and Cremation Service and Kornegay-Moseley Funeral Home refused to respond to our numerous efforts to contact them, by mail, telephone, and personal visit. Both funeral homes were closed during normal business hours. The Moseley funeral home on Meeting Street in West Columbia had a sign on the door telling people to call a phone number for service. Two of our board members made several calls to that number but only got an answering machine. We left messages asking them to call us, but they never did. We can only conclude that those businesses are not interested in divulging their prices to the public. Their behavior is a clear violation of the federal Funeral Rule.
We would like to congratulate Pressley’s Funeral Home and the South Carolina Cremation Society, both in West Columbia, for putting their complete GPLs on their websites—the only businesses in the area to provide this consumer-friendly service. (The National Funeral Consumers Alliance is urging the Federal Trade Commission to require funeral homes to put GPLs on their websites, but so far the FTC has taken no action.) Once again our survey compared prices in 12 categories, covering basic services, transportation, burial containers, immediate burial, and direct cremation. In the case of immediate burial, the price we listed does not include the cost of a casket, which is quite variable. On the other hand, prices for direct cremation do include the price of the minimal alternative container provided by the funeral home. As in previous surveys, the most obvious fact is the wide variance in prices charged for similar services. Each funeral home is free to charge what it believes its market will bear. Ironically, those that hold fewer funerals may charge more to make up for the lack of volume. Also, once-local businesses are being acquired by national corporations that usually set higher prices. Competition seems not to affect funeral homes because relatively few customers shop for services pre-need. We checked to see if funeral homes made federally mandated disclosures in their GPLs. All the funeral homes dated their GPLs, with the proviso that prices were subject to change without notice. Prices quoted in the survey were current as of February 2022. Moreover, all the homes included the required “right of selection” disclosure, meaning that customers are entitled to choose only the services they desire, except that they must pay the basic services charge, which includes standard administrative services and overhead costs such as facility maintenance, insurance, and utilities. Regarding the embalming disclosure, two funeral homes, Myers Mortuary and Pressley’s, stated that “except in certain special cases,” embalming is not required by law. The “special cases” do not legally exist in South Carolina, so their disclosure should read simply, “Embalming is not required by law,” as the other funeral homes affirm. All funeral homes, as required, listed their price ranges for caskets and outer burial containers (vaults), but several failed to quote a price for an alternative container, which is cardboard, fiberboard, or plain wooden box designed to hold a body during cremation. We had to infer the prices by subtracting their fee for cremation using a container provided by the client from the price of cremation using a container provided by the funeral home. McClary's and Pressley’s stated that an alternative container could also be used for a burial, which is a low-cost option that many consumers may not be aware of. We noticed some interesting variations. With cremation becoming more popular, reducing the demand for caskets, some funeral homes are offering a range of increasingly expensive alternative containers. (Our survey lists only the lowest-priced offering.) A few funeral homes list separate embalming prices for intact and autopsied remains. All charge additional mileage fees for transportation beyond a set radius from the funeral home, but the fees vary from $0.50 to $3.50 per mile, and the radii from 20 to 75 miles. Our surveys give you a convenient first step in funeral planning. Use them to select funeral homes in your budget range. Then visit them and request copies of their GPLs. They are obligated by law to give you one to take away, and they are not supposed to make you meet with a funeral director in order to get one. Take the GPLs home, look them over carefully, speak with your family about which services to buy, and make your plans accordingly. If you do that, you will only buy what you need and want, and you will save money.