As a New Yorker (where do-it-yourself exercise is not easy), I’ve long ago accepted that for me, a gym membership is one of those necessary evils I simply need in my life to stay fit and healthy. In fact, I’ve been in and out of various health clubs since I was 18 years old, and most have been great. But it was my very first gym experience that turned me into the extra-wary and diligent contract-signer I am today.
Years ago, I was involved in a small claims case against a club that fraudulently reinstated auto-payments just a few months after I’d canceled (which, being young and careless, went unnoticed for many months). The long and ugly battle never really made up for the $800 dollars I eventually won back. But I’m far from the only victim: the Internet is filled with gym-membership horror stories – misunderstandings over contracts, pushy sales pitches, and underhanded business practices.
So before you go off and feel the burn at your new gym or health club, here are 5 tips to avoid getting burned:
Yes. You CAN Change Your Mind
Most states offer protection for consumers who suffer from gym membership remorse, and it’s called a “cooling off” period. It’s usually a 3-5 day window where you can change your mind after you’ve signed up. Gyms don’t exactly advertise this option, so if you do get cold feet and decide to back out, exercise your right. Check with your state’s office of consumer protection or attorney general to find out what’s offered in your area (but if you go to them first, most gyms will honor this rule since it’s the law).
Consider a No-Contract Club
Like cell phone plans, no-contract plans at gyms and health clubs are gaining in popularity, as customers demand more freedom of choice. Those without a contract will have a sign-up fee, instead, or perhaps pay a slightly higher monthly premium. Either way, if you run the risk of being a fair-weather fitness friend, get the easy opt-out option to avoid heavy penalties — or at least take advantage of the free 1-2 week trial before you make a commitment.
See About a La Carte
Consider what sorts of services you really use at the gym. Could you be better served by an a la carte plan? At my local mom-n-pop gym in Long Island, NY there are options for full monthly access, or you can pay for individual classes or trainers, no membership required. And since I really only use the gym for those specific purposes, I figured out I could save money by skipping the monthly fee and paying only for the services I use.
Ask All the ‘What If’s'…
At the time of sign-up, find out under what circumstances you’re allowed to pause or cancel a membership with no penalty. What if you get injured, travel for an extended period of time, or move away? What happens if the facility is sold to a new owner? Ask now because you never know what could happen.
“Canceling” Payment Doesn’t Mean “Stopping” Payment
Even if you cancel your membership or have a verbal agreement with the gym that they’ll stop charging you, there could have been some fine print in the contract stating you have to cancel auto-pay directly through your bank or, only by submitting the request by written letter to the gym, itself. My small claims case mentioned above involved just that. Unfortunately, the responsibility to watch your account closely falls squarely on your shoulders, alone. I was lucky, but you may not be; a court may not rule in your favor if you wait too long to correct inaccuracies or if you didn’t comply with the contract.
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