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Gym memberships: what to check before signing contract

By Bill Gephardt  |  Posted Jan 30th, 2013 @ 7:45am


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SALT LAKE CITY — If you're looking to join a gym or fitness club, watch out. Complaints about membership contracts are way up across the country and in Utah.

In 2012, the Better Business Bureau of Utah received 330 complaints involving gyms and their contracts. That's roughly double the number from 2011. Most of the complaints involve broken verbal promises that are not backed up by the written contract.

"The biggest complaints that we get are people who sign the contract, and they didn't read it. So what the sales person told them and what the contract says are two different things," said a national spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau.

Tips prior to signing contract
  • Research the gym online at bbb.org
  • Consider your budget and check the fees
  • Visit on a day and time that you plan to use it
  • Don't give in to sales pressure
  • Carefully review the contract
  • Understand length of membership, automatic renewal and cancellation policies
Source: El Paso Times

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection also has seen an increase in complaints. In fact, it said gyms are one of the top 10 complained-about industries of 2012.

"It used to be that people would complain about how crowded the gym was and how dirty it was. Now the complaints are all about the contract and all about what the sales person said," the BBB said.

Some things to remember about many gym contracts:

  • They can last months or years
  • Sometimes consumers can pay them every month, sometimes all at once
  • Some require cancellation fees, if the contract is able to be canceled at all
  • Transfers can be tricky if the gym member moves
  • If it's not in the contract, it doesn't legally matter what the salesperson said

Experts suggest consumers take their time to read the contract before signing.

"The gym should let you take as much time as you want. If you want 10 minutes, if you want an hour, if you want two hours to read the contract, they should let you do that. If they don't let you do that, get up and walk away," the BBB advised.

All health and fitness clubs that have contracts are required to print specific disclosures regarding usage, billing, and cancellation. Be sure you understand that prior to signing. Also, beware of high pressure sales tactics like, "sign up today or the deal's no good."

"The offer should be just as good tomorrow as it is today," said Sheryl Bilbrey of the BBB.


The offer should be just as good tomorrow as it is today.

–Sheryl Bilbrey, BBB


Some gyms make a business model out of enforcing what consumers sign.

"Unfortunately, we can't help them because they've signed a legally binding contract," Bilbrey said.

The BBB said it helped resolve 94 percent of consumer complaints in Utah involving gyms and their contracts.

Many gyms also outsource their contract management and billing services to a third party, which can complicate matters if problems such as a billing error arise.

Personally, I go to a gym to work out. If it wants me to sign a lengthy financial agreement to do so, I find another gym.

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