Read the fine print before getting a gym membership

By By Spencer Merrick

By Spencer Merrick

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, thousands of people found that they’d lost their homes, their possessions, and in some cases, even members of their own family. But they didn’t lose their gym memberships.

Many members of the French Riviera Health Spa, a New Orleans gym, were surprised to find that though they had been relocated to another state, their bank accounts had been almost zeroed as a result of the disaster and their gym was submerged in 8 feet of water and no longer had a roof or windows, they were still being billed monthly for membership.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever tried to cancel a membership with any large franchise such as Gold’s Gym or 24 Hour Fitness. It’s like getting gum out of your hair. Cancellation fees, automatic contract renewal policies and required certified letters detailing termination of membership are examples of the fine print often overlooked in the rushed enrollment process. And that’s not to mention the unreturned phone calls, the futile stop-payments and the shady salesmen trying to talk you out of it.

Often, people worried about long-term commitment with a gym such as Gold’s stick with the smallest contract, usually one year, under the impression that they are free from all payment obligations after their one-year membership expires. But there’s a lovely little auto-renewal policy in the fine print of the contract that keeps your membership alive, and no part of the contract puts Gold’s under obligation to verbally inform any member that their membership will, in fact, be renewed, and that billing will continue as normal.

Unfortunately, many members don’t realize that their contracts have been automatically renewed until a month has passed (without any use of the gym, of course) and they see that Gold’s Gym is still taking money out of their account. Bewildered, they go to the gym and are told that they are still under contract, and to cancel, they will have to give another 30-days notice. This makes a total of two months of membership that they’re paying for that they didn’t want, and probably didn’t use.

In an effort to avoid the billing of extra months by Gold’s Gym, many people put a stop-payment on their bank account, restricting further monthly fees until they at least know what’s going on. But Gold’s Gym, along with most fitness center franchises, does its billing through a number of independent agencies, and is able to sneak around these stop-payments by simply changing the monthly bill by a few cents and rerouting the billing through one of its other agencies.

In one such case, a Provo gym member won a lawsuit against Gold’s Gym when the gym changed the contract after it was signed and bypassed stop-payments to bill the member.

Besides the often nightmarish cancellation process, many people are misled by the supposed free workouts and VIP passes that are given out like candy in drawings and special offers. I’m beginning to believe that you can’t actually lose in a drawing at Gold’s Gym. But most prizes can’t even be claimed until you purchase a membership.

Another bit of fine print included in contracts at Gold’s Gym is the semi-annual machine maintenance fee. What, may I ask, is my regular monthly fee paying for if not, at least in part, the maintenance of the machines? Is most of it just dumped into the employee payroll?

For students contemplating a new contract at a gym such as Gold’s or 24 Hour Fitness, you might want to take a breather during the sign-up sales pitch to see what you’re getting yourself into. Have a one-on-one with the contract, and read it carefully.

The U offers free membership to students at the Field House, and though the amenities might not be the same you might find in many other fitness clubs and the hours might not be as convenient, it’s not likely to come packaged with too much small print. The last thing students need is another set of inescapable payment obligations.

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Spencer Merrick