North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice
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Make your health club work out for you

1/21/2014

By Attorney General Roy Cooper

North Carolina families celebrate the holidays in different ways, but most celebrations have one thing in common: plenty of good food.  As a result, it’s no surprise that many people resolve to lose weight and get in shape in the New Year.

If you’re thinking about joining a gym, do your homework first. Committing to a workout routine is a great idea, but don’t take all health club promotions at face value. My office hears from hundreds of consumers every year who are unhappy with their health club or surprised to see it shut down unexpectedly.

Under state law, health clubs, along with dance studios, martial arts studios and dating services, are required to have a bond or letter of credit to cover certain prepaid contracts in case they go out of business and need money to repay consumers.  During previous investigations, my office found dozens of health clubs that didn’t have enough money set aside for refunds and got them to comply with the law.  We’ve used this law to recover more than $1 million for consumers whose gyms closed.

To avoid problems when you join a gym:

  • Compare several health clubs.
Shop around for the best value, which may not be the least expensive club. For example, some clubs with low monthly fees require long membership periods.  Know what you can afford and stick to your budget no matter what incentives the sales agent offers.  Don’t be afraid to bargain. Check with my office by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM to see if there are any complaints against the clubs you’re considering.

  • Take a tour and check out the staff.
Look for a health club that will meet your needs. Visit at the time of day you’re most likely to exercise to see if the equipment you want to use will be available when you need it.  Make sure the club is clean and well-maintained, and look for friendly and knowledgeable staff with the appropriate background and certifications.  Some facilities have a staff member trained in Pulmonary Resuscitation on-site at all times and some offer child care.  

  • Take a test drive.
Ask if the health club allows free trial workouts so you can see how you like it before you sign up.  This will also give you the chance to ask current members about the facility.  Beware of signing up with a club that hasn’t opened yet, no matter how good the offer sounds.

  • Find out about fees.
Ask about additional fees that may be included in your contract, such as a maintenance fee, an early cancellation/“buy-out” fee and/or any fees for non-sufficient funds or collections if you fail to pay your membership dues.

  • Ask about transfers
Find out what happens if the club closes.  North Carolina law allows clubs to transfer members to another club up to eight miles away in certain circumstances.  Consider asking the health club to take that out of your contract and agree instead to cancel your membership if the club closes before your contract expires.   If they agree, make sure it’s written in your contract and signed by a club representative.

  • Pay attention to your contract.
Take the contract home and read it carefully before you sign.  Make sure you understand the cancellation policy, the services included and the total cost.  Avoid joining a club that pressures you to sign on the spot.  Be certain that everything you’ve been promised is included in the final written contract, and make sure you get a copy of your signed contract.  Consider a short-term contract so you don’t get stuck with a membership you don’t use.  Under state law, a health club contract cannot be longer than three years.

And once you’ve joined a gym, keep in mind:

  • Your membership may renew itself.
Consumers sometimes complain that their contract renewed automatically, or that they had to take time-consuming steps to keep it from being renewed. If you have a problem with automatic renewal of your health club membership, let my office know about it.

  • Your right to cancel.
Under North Carolina law, you can cancel your health club contract within three days of signing it.  To cancel, follow exactly the steps listed in your contract.  Most clubs require you to cancel in writing, and it’s best to send your cancellation notice via certified mail so that you have proof of when it was sent and received.  If you cancel within the three-day window, you should get back what you initially paid to join.

In certain situations, you may have a right to cancel even after three days. For example, if you move out of town, become disabled or get transferred to a club that is significantly different, you should be able to cancel without paying extra fees.  Notify the club in writing and keep a copy for yourself as proof.

  • Your health club may end before your membership does.
If your health club closes, contact my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.  Over the past few years, we’ve been able to get money back for hundreds of North Carolinians who were members of clubs that shut their doors.  For more information on to file a consumer complaint, visit www.ncdoj.gov