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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
"Staying fit and healthy" and "losing weight" are two of the most common New Year's resolutions among Americans, according to Nielsen research.
So it's no surprise that gyms see a surge of memberships around the beginning of the year. Some who join will end up unhappy customers, sometimes because they didn't read their contracts.
Complaints about fitness-center contracts are prevalent. About 170 people a year report them to the Ohio attorney general's office. The Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio reports receiving 271 fitness-center complaints in the past three years.
Complaints about billing and cancellation policies are most common.
The best way to avoid being disappointed is to do homework before signing a contract.
"You wouldn't buy a car without a test drive," the BBB notes in a tip sheet.
It recommends visiting at the time you typically would work out.
"Make sure the number of people there at that time will not limit your productivity. Also, check the cleanliness of the equipment and the locker-room area. See if the gym equipment is in good condition and maintained properly. Make sure the facility has the equipment and classes that interest you."
It's important to read and understand your membership contract and keep it for reference.
Many gyms now advertise month-to-month memberships with little or no extended commitment, but the fine print often details specific requirements for ending the relationship. For example, they might require that cancellations be made in person, in a letter and/or at least 30 days in advance.
Failing to follow all these instructions can mean the customer continues to be billed, and if the customer halts payments, that could trigger calls from a collection agency.
Salespeople often will try to get potential customers to sign up immediately. The BBB suggests taking the contract home to read and thinking twice about joining if the sales representative says that the price or terms are good only on that day.
"Walk away from clubs that pressure you to sign a contract on the spot," the organization recommends. "Make sure the contract lists all services and fees, and any promises made by the salesperson. Find out what is included in the monthly fee and what will cost extra."
For example, personal training and certain classes often cost extra.
Attorney General Mike DeWine reminded consumers in his "10 New Year's consumer-protection tips" last week to know their rights when joining a gym. Under Ohio law, consumers generally have three business days to cancel a new contract with a fitness center.
As with all aspects of fitness contracts, people must attend to the details of such quick cancellations: They must be made in writing and postmarked by midnight on the third business day after the first service is available from the club.
DeWine strongly recommends using certified mail with a return receipt requested to deliver the cancellation notice. That costs money and time but in the long run could save money and avoid aggravation.
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