If one of your resolutions this year has you headed straight to the nearest fitness center, think carefully before signing up for a gym membership. In just one year (2017), the Better Business Bureau recorded over 6,000 complaints related to unscrupulous health club practices.
Gym advertisements make it seem as if their establishments will solve all your problems. The facilities appear clean and inviting, the people seem happy, and all the equipment is there to help you achieve your goals. But not everything is rosy under the surface—or in the fine print.
Common Scams at the Gym
Before you sign on the dotted line for a gym membership, watch out for these common fitness scams that can lead to trouble down the road.
1. EFT Payments
Most gyms want you to believe they’ve entered the modern age with their electronic payment systems. What’s really happening is that these companies want access to your credit card number or personal bank account so they can continue to charge you, whether you’re still going to the gym or not.
Let’s assume you think you’ve signed up for a one-year membership with a gym at a certain rate. There’s a strong chance that your membership will auto-renew at the end of that term without you being notified. Read any contract carefully—gym contracts might even have a clause allowing them to increase your monthly rate at each renewal.
2. Annual Fees
Monthly membership fees for fitness centers generally range around $30 to $40 for one person, but some can be lower or higher depending on amenities and location. You might get an amazing deal for a fitness center membership at the start of the year, but watch out for hidden charges.
First, with your monthly fees, you might only be paying to walk through the door. If you want anything extra, like classes or training, you’ll pay for it. Even worse, franchised gyms such as Gold’s Gym, Anytime Fitness, and Planet Fitness often have clauses in their contracts allowing them to charge you an annual or semi-annual facility or maintenance fee, which could be hundreds of dollars.
3. Cancellation Policies
In another example of why it’s vital to read the entire contract and ask lots of questions, many people find that they can’t cancel their gym memberships if they change their minds. Should you get cold feet after you walk out the gym door, you have recourse. According to the FTC, you can cancel any contract within three days of signing.
Even if you follow all of the fitness center’s ironclad rules about cancellation, however, they might ignore your requests and keep billing you. This is a common theme with some national chains, such as LA Fitness.
4. Military Leave
Transferring to another base or deployment can disrupt a service member’s life. Without any protections, these moves can result in gym contract disputes and damage the service person’s credit.
If you sign a gym contract and are then deployed by the military or moved out of the area, the facility is not supposed to penalize you or hold you to a contract. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) requires that fitness centers release service members from these contracts under certain conditions.
5. Personal Trainers
When a gym says that they have “certified personal trainers” to help you reach your fitness goals, step back and scrutinize their claims. This is not a standardized industry, and an underqualified trainer could easily lead to injury.
In addition to asking about the trainers’ years of experience, find out if they have any reputable accreditations. Some of the acronyms you can look for include ACE, ACSM, NASM, and NSCA.
What to Look for in a Gym Membership
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do something different to improve your health in the coming year. However, it’s vital that you act deliberately when signing a contract of any kind, even with a fitness center.
Check the gym’s online profiles to see if others have complained about any of the issues outlined here. Is the gym accredited with the BBB, and what issues have arisen, if any? Don’t feel pressured to sign any contract, and always take it home to read every line before doing so.
When You’ve Been “Scammed” by Your Gym
Several states—including California, New Jersey, North Carolina, New York, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington—have statutes applying directly to the health club industry. Gyms that don’t comply with the law may be subject to penalties and fines.
If you’re having trouble getting what you expected from your gym membership and believe that the facility has acted in bad faith, it may be time to pursue legal remedies. If the facility isn’t following the law or is taking unauthorized funds from your bank account, start by contacting the attorney general in your state.