WEIGHTY HEALTHY CLUB CONTRACTS, “EASY PAYMENT PLAN” FITNESS GADGETRY
Lori Z. Bahnmueller
Michigan Credit Union League - Your Money Matters
PLYMOUTH, Mich., April, 1999 — I purchased a Health Rider one lazy Sunday afternoon. I had nearly polished off a tub of chocolate covered, chocolate ice cream bon bons, when a bubbly Olympic skating champion flashed across the television bursting with full infomercial excitement, touting the latest exercise wonder.
“It’s so simple,” she promised. “I use it while I watch television,” she dared, her bright smile competing with the glare of her gold medal. “The results are incredible,” again with the promises.
Maybe the chocolate clouded my judgement. Perhaps it was the guilt from consuming the chocolate. Nonetheless, I bit. Two weeks later, the monstrosity was awaiting my arrival at the apartment administrative offices. Four years and $500 later, it continues to beckon me from a dark corner in the basement — though its cries are muffled by the pile of folded towels resting atop its seat.
My dalliances with health clubs have suffered similar, costly fates. Unfortunately, I’m not alone. A former colleague of mine spent more than a year battling with a health club over his wife’s continued membership after she shattered her hip bone. He assumed the club would empathize with his wife’s health situation and sever the three-year contract. Instead, the club offered to extend her contract “fee free” for the extent of her hospitalization following after the three-year contract had been satisfied.
Problems often arise when consumers purchase long-term memberships, locking them in to months of payments. Or, they are sold memberships that are being promoted as limited-offer discounted memberships when in reality they are not. Because of these problems and others, consumers should take appropriate measures when considering health club contracts.
When you are considering whether to join a health club, be cautious of:
1. joining clubs that have not opened — they might never open;
2. low-cost “bait” ads — many “switch” you to expensive long-term contracts;
3. promises that you can cancel anytime and stop paying — check the written contract for the terms of membership and any other promises;
4. the fine print — many low-cost ads and contracts severely restrict hours of use and services;
5. signing long-term contracts — consumer protection agencies report that many consumers quit using the club within a few months;
6. automatic monthly billing to your charge card or debit from a checking account — these are easier to start than to stop; and
7. unbelievably low one-time fees with no monthly dues.
Before you sign, be sure to:
1. Check with your doctor before you begin an exercise program;
2. Visit the club at the hours you will be using it;
3. Check to see that promised equipment/services are actually available;
4. Talk with current members regarding their satisfaction with the club;
5. Check out several clubs before you sign a contract;
6. Consider your commitment to a long-term program — good intentions seem to fade as the reality of the hard work sets in;
7. Read the contract carefully before you sign. Is interest charged for a payment plan? Are all promises in writing?
8. Check with your local or state consumer agency or Better Business Bureau for any laws in your state, cancellation rights or complaints against the company.