Be Aware of Gym Memberships

There are lots of deals being advertised for gym memberships, but unless you know exactly what you're signing up for, you could end up paying more than you plan.

"Like many good intentions we did use the gym and then as time went on we gradually lost interest in it," says Dennis Connaughton a Customer.

Dennis Connaughton and his wife sound like a lot of people who pay money every month for a gym membership. They joined nearly six years ago, and recently called to cancel.

"A gentleman at the time said ok here is your confirmation numbers for your cancellation and you are free to use the gym for the next 60 days because we're going to charge you membership for the next 60 days,” explains Connaughton. “It surprised me."

When the Connaughton first signed up, he thought he agreed to a 30 day cancellation fee. But the fine print added another 30 days.

A second contract gotcha is the Connaughtons monthly charges doubled in 5 years. When they signed up, Connaughton's wife was paying $32.99 a month and he was paying $29.99 a month.

"By the time I canceled in November of 2012 at that point I had been paying now on a biweekly basis because the company slipped that in," says Connaughton.

Small, familiar charges now twice a month. How was the gym able to charge double? Simple, it said it could in the contract.

"The company reserves the right to change the amount the dues and charges payable here under at any time," says Connaughton.

So instead of the Connaughton's paying about $700 each year, they were paying more than $1,000.

"It was pretty upsetting to me," says Connaughton.

Washington Consumers' Checkbook offers tips to help protect consumers when choosing a place to exercise. Rule number one, avoid signing a contract. If you can, go month to month.

Know the rules of cancellation. What happens when you change your mind, move, get hurt, can you get your money back? Or freeze your membership? Rule number two, did you know you can haggle the price?

"Press them on price,” explains Robert Krughoff of “You may find they have a special price just for you, you can negotiate."

Third, shop and save. For example Checkbook found two popular health clubs had more than a $500 difference between them for a one-year membership with full access to equipment and classes at both places.

Rule number four, try before you buy.

"Try out the facilities, talk to other members," says Krughoff.

Exercise your consumer rights so you don't end up in Connaughton's gym shoes.

"I am not sure that I will ever sign anything that says things like that again," says Connaughton.

Niche gyms like Crossfit and Flywheel are also getting more popular. You may find you prefer a non-standard gym, one that is women only or open 24 hours, for instance.

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