Keeping your New Year's resolution: Things to consider before joining a gym

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Many brokers have made New Year’s resolutions to get fit in 2013, but, just like with any other investment, there are a few things to consider before signing on to a gym membership.

Here are some tips from Consumer Affairs Victoria to make sure you get a flatter stomach – not a flatter wallet.

Before you look for a gym, consider:

  • Your fitness goals and budget: is a gym membership is best for you? Know what you want, what you can afford and what type of membership will suit you.
  • The location and facilities: Take your time to look at several fitness centres, tour the gym at times that you plan to use it and try it out on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis, to see if it meets your needs and fits your lifestyle. Also, ask if the fitness centre has policies that would limit your use - for example, the pool is not open to all members at certain times, or the gym shuts on public holidays.

Once you’ve chosen a gym, ask:

What are the terms of any introductory offer or ‘free’ trial?

At this time of year, many fitness businesses often use special offers to attract new members. For example, a gym may offer ‘free’ use of facilities for two weeks - but only if you join as a member for three months.

Make sure you understand the terms of the introductory offer, including:

  • when the introductory period or offer will end
  • what services you can use during the introductory period. Will you get access to the same range of classes, lockers or other facilities as a full member?
  • whether you are joining as a member for a set time and, if so, for how long
  • whether you will automatically switch to an ongoing membership price at the end of the introductory period. The business must give you a clear choice about continuing as a member at the end of the trial.

Fitness businesses must make sure any promotions are not misleading or deceptive. They cannot rely on small print and disclaimers as an excuse for not delivering services as promised.

Find out whether your membership will renew automatically

Don’t assume your contract will end when it expires. Most gym or fitness memberships automatically renew without notice. If you originally agreed to a direct debit, the membership costs will continue to come out of your account.

A fitness business should:

  • give you a choice, when you first sign up, whether you want your membership to automatically renew. If you do not want this, your membership should automatically terminate at the end of the minimum term
  • make it clear on the application form that you have this choice
  • send you a reminder that your membership will automatically renew, when it is close to expiring. They should give you enough time to give notice that you do not want to renew, within the time limit stated in your contract.

How to cancel a contract:

You will usually have to pay a cancellation fee and give notice to get out of a fitness contract before the expiry date. The fee must be reasonable and you should not have to pay out the contract.

Before you sign up, find out:

  • under what circumstances you are allowed to cancel - for example, does the gym let you do so if you are injured or ill?
  • how much it will cost, including the cancellation fee
  • how the final direct debit payments will be calculated
  • exactly what steps you will have to take to cancel. You should be able to cancel your membership easily – for example, by writing to the gym or fitness centre. If they have a cancellation form, it should be your choice whether to use it.

Make sure the contract clearly states this information - don’t just rely on the verbal assurances of gym staff.

If you do join a gym, always put any notice you give the fitness centre in writing and keep a copy. This record will be important if you are in dispute.

What happens if I move?

Don’t assume you will be able to use another centre or get out of your contract if you move to a different area.

Fitness businesses have policies about how moving will affect your membership. Ask about their policy before you join, even if you are not planning to move.

Can I suspend my membership?

Can you suspend your membership for holidays, illness or other circumstances? This is not something a gym or fitness centre has to allow, unless it is in the contract.

If they do allow you to suspend, make sure the contract states:

  • in what circumstances you can do so
  • how long you can suspend the membership for
  • what notice you will have to give and how it must be given
  • whether there is an administration fee.

You should only be charged a suspension fee (not your ordinary membership fees) while the membership is on hold. Any direct debit amounts should be adjusted accordingly.

What happens if the fitness company goes out of business?

Avoid paying large amounts up-front or signing long-term contracts. Monthly payments are a safer option.

Be wary of buying a membership for a new club that is not yet operating and do not agree to direct debits until you are able to use the facilities.