Make your health club work out for you
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
North Carolina families celebrate the holidays in different ways, but one thing most celebrations have in common is 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 your New Year’s resolutions have you thinking about joining a gym, do your homework first. It’s a great way to get in shape but problems can arise as my office hears from hundreds of consumers every year who are unhappy with their health club or see it shut down unexpectedly.
Under state law, health clubs, 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 sweeps, 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 also use this law to recover money for consumers when their gym closes.
To help avoid problems from the start, check out a gym or health club thoroughly before you start:
- Compare several health clubs.
Shop around for the best value which may or may not be the least expensive club. For example, some clubs with low monthly fees require long membership periods. Know what you can afford to pay and stick to your budget no matter what incentives the sales agent offers. Don’t be afraid to bargain. You can also check with my Consumer Protection Division 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.
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 educational background and certifications. Some facilities have a staff member trained in Pulmonary Resuscitation on-site at all times, and some offer child care facilities. Look for a health club with the right combination of location, facilities and resources to meet your needs.
Ask if the health club allows free trial workouts so that 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 its doors, no matter how good the offer sounds.
- 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. Stay away from clubs that pressure you to sign on the spot. Be certain that everything you’ve been promised is included in the final written version of your contract. If you sign up, don’t leave the club without 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.
Ask about additional fees that may be included in your contract such as a maintenance fee, early cancellation/“buy-out” fee (or lack of one), and or any fees for non-sufficient funds or collections if you fail to pay your membership dues.
Find out what would happen if the club closes. The law allows clubs to transfer members to another club up to eight miles away in certain circumstances. Consider asking the health club to remove that provision from your contract and agree instead to cancel your membership if the club closes before your contract expires. If the club agrees to this, make sure it’s written in your contract and signed by a club representative.
And once you’ve joined a gym, keep in mind:
Under North Carolina law, you can cancel your contract within three days of signing it. Most clubs require you to cancel in writing, so pay particular attention to the part of the contract that spells out how you must tell the club if you decide to cancel. 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 your membership within the three-day window, you should get a refund for the amount you initially paid to join the gym.
In certain situations, you may have a right to cancel even after three days without any extra fees. 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 cancellation or buy-out fees. Notify the club in writing and keep a copy for yourself as proof.
- Your membership may renew itself.
Check to see if your contract really expires after a certain period of time or if it will renew automatically. 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 a health club contract, let my office know about it.
- Your health club may expire 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 recover more than one million dollars for hundreds of North Carolinians who were members of health clubs, gyms or dating clubs that shut their doors. For more information or to file a consumer complaint, visit www.ncdoj.gov