Money Matters

The Smartest Way to Join a Gym

Exercise is essential, and it can be tempting to join a gym to get yourself into a routine. But a gym is a product like any other, and you’re the consumer. Make sure you know that you’re paying for a gym that try to you off or win you over with shady sales tactics. Here are some tips from the experts at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

Joining a gym often means signing a contract, and not all contracts are the same. To avoid a problem down the road, find out more about the business and what you’re committing to before you sign up. People have told the FTC about high-pressure sales tactics, misrepresentations about facilities and services, broken cancellation policies, and lost membership fees when gyms go out of business.

Check Out the Facilities

Plan a visit at a time you would normally be using the gym to see how crowded it is, whether the facilities are clean and well-maintained, and whether the equipment is in good shape. Ask about the:

  • Number of members. Many gyms set no membership limits. It might not be crowded when you visit but be packed during peak hours or after a membership drive.
  • Hours of operation. Do they suit your schedule? Some fitness centers may limit lower-cost memberships to certain hours.
  • Instructors and trainers. Some places hire trainers and instructors who have special qualifications. If you’re looking for professionals to help you, ask about their qualifications and how long they’ve been on the staff.
  • Classes. Will you need to pay extra for certain activities, or are they included in your membership fees?

Know What You’re Agreeing To

Some gyms will ask you to join — and pay — the first time you visit and will offer incentives like special rates to get you to sign on the spot. It’s best to wait a few days before deciding. Take the contract home and read it carefully. Before you sign, find out:

Is everything the salesperson promised written in the contract?

If a problem comes up after you join, the contract is what counts. If something isn’t written in the contract, it’s going to be difficult to prove your case.

Is there a “cooling-off” or trial period?

Some gyms give customers several days to reconsider after they’ve signed a contract. Others might let you join for a trial period. Even if it costs a little more each month, if you’re not enjoying the membership or using it as much as you planned, you will have saved yourself years of payments.

Can you cancel your membership or get a refund?

What happens if you need to cancel your membership because of a move or an injury, or if you find you just aren’t using it? Will they refund your money? Knowing the gym’s cancellation policies is especially important if you choose a long-term membership.

What happens if the gym goes out of business? You can check with your state Attorney General to see what your rights are according to your state’s laws.

Is the price right?

Break down the cost to weekly and even daily figures to get a better idea of what you will pay to use the facility. Include possible finance charges if you pay by credit. Can you afford it?

If you signed up for a special introductory rate, make sure you know the terms of your contract once the discounted rate ends.

Find Out What Other People Think

Search for reviews online

Do a search online to see what other people are saying about the location you’re interested in. You might search the name of the gym with words like “reviews” or “complaints.” Are people having the same kinds of issues with their contracts or the facilities?

Check for complaints and find out your rights

Contact your state Attorney General or local consumer protection office to find out whether state laws regulate health club memberships, and whether the office has gotten any complaints about the business.

The FTC is a federal agency with the aim of working to protect consumers by preventing anticompetitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices, enhancing informed consumer choice and public understanding of the competitive process, and accomplishing this without unduly burdening legitimate business activity. For more information, visit the agency’s website.

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