Gym signup warning: What to ask before you sign

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January is the biggest month of the year for health club sign ups, as millions of Americans try to lose those pounds we put on over the holiday.

But before you grab what appears to be a great offer from a gym, we have 4 things you need to know, that could prevent you from paying more than you expected.

Gyms and health clubs are all making pitches this month, with super deals to get you to join.

But many of the folks we spoke with in a downtown lunch crowd have either heard gym horror stories, or have had a bad gym experience personally, like Susie Grau did.

"They signed me up for a personal trainer," Grau said, "and the person was never around.  And when I tried to get out of it, it cost me $250 to get out of the contract."

Lisa Henderer told us that when her gym closed, she still had to pay her monthly fee because there was another club within 20 miles.  Even though she would never use the other club, she was locked in for the year.

The financial website Credit.com  says many gyms are expert at signing you up, but are terrible when you try to cancel.

So before you sign any contract, the report says:

  • Ask about penalties you may face if you cancel your membership early.
  • Don't believe verbal promises about classes, child care, or anything else.  If it is not written in the contract, it's worthless.
  • Pay the bill monthly by check or credit card:  If you give a gym your checking account number, billing can continue long after you try to cancel

Mike Dawson of the Better Business Bureau said "they will get you in a room and pressure you to sign right away. Our advice is to take a contract home and carefully read it before you sign it."

In addition, before you commit to a contract, ask if you can try the gym out free for a week. Then, negotiate for an even better rate.

Finally, look hard for gyms that will let you go month to month.

More than half of all people who join a gym in January drop out by May. But if you are under contract you have to pay till the end of the year.

So ask tough questions, so you don't waste your money.

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