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Shop smart for gym memberships

LANSING — Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today reminds Michigan residents, who may be adopting a healthier lifestyle in the New Year, of a consumer alert that offers advice on how to make educated choices about health club and fitness center memberships.

“Every year adopting a healthier lifestyle seems to be at the top of many people’s list of resolutions,” said Schuette.  “Unfortunately, some gyms and clubs see the New Year as an opportunity to take advantage of people who are genuinely trying to make a positive lifestyle change. I encourage everyone to take their time to carefully review all contracts and information before signing on the dotted line.”

In 2015, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division received 65 complaints from Michigan consumers against health clubs and fitness centers.  The majority of the complaints involved discrepancies between what consumers say they were told by sales personnel and what the signed contract actually guaranteed.  In particular, consumers reported the written cancellation procedure frequently differed from what they were told by the salesperson.  Consumers also complained about high-pressure sales tactics and feeling rushed to sign contracts.

In the consumer alert, Lose Weight, Not Money, Schuette advises consumers to follow these guidelines to make smart choices when joining a health club or fitness center:

  1. Doctor’s OK.  Check with your doctor prior to beginning a fitness program.
  2. Visit.  Stop by the club during the times you would normally use the facility to determine if it is overcrowded.  Examine the facility for cleanliness and the condition of the equipment.
  3. Budget. Carefully consider the cost of the membership and whether you can afford to make the necessary payments.  If the services of instructors and/or trainers are provided, inquire about the training qualifications of the staff and whether you will be charged for the service.  Do tannings, aerobics, or other classes require additional fees?
  4. Free trial period.  A long-term contract may not be right for you.  Ask whether a month-to-month or other short-term contract or trial membership is available.  Regardless of the length of your contract, ask if you can pay monthly.  If the club closes you may lose less money.
  5. Cancellation and Refunds. Make sure you understand the cancellation and refund policies before signing the contract. What happens if your move, are injured, or get a serious illness?  Also, what happens if the fitness center goes out of business?  A “lifetime” membership is really only good for the lifetime of the business, not your lifetime.
  6. Read any contract carefully before signing.  Don’t be rushed prior to signing any contract; take your time and make sure you understand all of the contract terms before signing.  Ask for an unsigned contract to take home and review.
  7. After you sign your contract, make sure you keep a copy.  Some companies may ask you to pay additional fees on top of what you have already paid or have agreed to pay for your membership.  If you are asked to pay additional fees, make sure that is allowed under your contract.  You may be asked to pay fees that are not mandatory for you to keep your membership in good standing.  This should be made clear to you by the company; if it is not clear, call the company and ask about the fee before you pay.
  8. Shop around and background check. Ask friends or relatives for recommendations. Search for reviews online and contact the Consumer Protection Division to find out if complaints have been filed against the health club you are considering.  If you are considering a membership at a large franchise, find out whether all of the locations will honor your membership.
  9. Exercise caution. If the club is advertising an unrealistically low price, be cautious.
  10. Closing or changing ownership. Immediately reference the Attorney General’s Business Sudden Closure consumer alert.  If the business changes ownership but remains open, ask the new owner for a contract containing the same terms as the one you have.  Unless the new owner is honoring your old contract, you can’t be required to join the new club.  If you cannot get written confirmation that your old contract will be honored and the new business refuses to provide a satisfactory resolution, file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division.
  11. Shop smart.  Be an informed consumer to make sure the only weight you lose is not from your wallet.

Take the time to review all contracts carefully, prior to signing, to confirm that all promises made by the salesperson are written in the contract.  Also, make sure you understand your contractual obligations.  Many consumers mistakenly believe that if they are no longer using the fitness center, they can discontinue payments on the contract.

Attorney General Schuette’s consumer alert, Lose Weight, Not Money, is available online at www.michigan.gov/ag. Attorney General Schuette encourages residents with questions or concerns to contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division toll-free by calling 877-765-8388.

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