Health Club Memberships - Lose Weight, Not Money
The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.
Lose Weight, Not Money - Health Club Memberships
In 2016, the Michigan Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division received 84 complaints from consumers about fitness centers. The majority of the complaints involved discrepancies between what consumers say they were told by sales personnel and what the signed contract actually guaranteed. In particular, consumers reported the written cancellation procedures frequently differed from what they were told by the salesperson.
Consumers also complained about high-pressure sales tactics and feeling rushed to sign contracts. Prior to signing, take the time to review all contracts carefully and confirm that all promises made by the salesperson are written in the contract. Also, make sure you understand your contractual obligations. Many consumers mistakenly believe that if they are no longer using the fitness center, they can discontinue payments on the contract.
Use caution when considering very inexpensive lifetime membership offers or "free" memberships. These offers are often used to raise money quickly and may be a sign of financial instability of the fitness center. That life membership could be cut short by a terminal financial illness at the center.
Tips for Consumers: How to Avoid Common Health Club Membership Pitfalls
Considering the following suggestions will help you make a wise decision and may help you avoid common problems with fitness center memberships.
- Doctor’s OK. Check with your doctor prior to beginning a fitness program.
- Visit. Stop by the club during the times you would normally use the facility to determine if it is overcrowded. Examine the facility for cleanliness and the condition of the equipment.
- Budget. Carefully consider the cost of the membership and whether you can afford to make the necessary payments. If the services of instructors and/or trainers are provided, inquire about the training qualifications of the staff and whether you will be charged for the service. Do aerobics or other classes require additional fees?
- Long-term contracts. A long-term contract may not be right for you, especially when paid up front for the entire membership term. Ask whether a month-to-month or other short-term contract or trial membership is available. Regardless of the length of your contract, ask if you can pay monthly. If the club closes you may lose less money.
- Cancellation and Refunds. Make sure you understand the cancellation and refund policies before signing the contract. What happens if you move, are injured, or get a serious illness? Is there a fee to cancel? Also, what happens if the fitness center goes out of business, or moves to a different, less convenient location? A “lifetime” membership is really only good for the lifetime of the business, not your lifetime.
- Read any contract carefully before signing. Don't be rushed prior to signing any contract; take your time and make sure you understand all of the contract terms before signing. Read all the fine print! Be sure to check for inconspicuous charges. Ask for an unsigned contract to take home and review.
After you sign your contract, make sure you keep a copy. Some companies may ask you to pay additional fees on top of what you have already paid or have agreed to pay for your membership. If you are asked to pay additional fees, make sure that is allowed under your contract. You may be asked to pay fees that are not mandatory for you to keep your membership in good standing. This should be made clear to you by the company; if it is not clear, call the company and ask about the fee before you pay.
- Free trial offers. While free trial offers may be a good way to check out a facility, be alert for possible hidden costs. Unscrupulous clubs may refuse to honor a free trial offer without a signed contract, or may automatically convert the trial offer to a paying membership at the end of the trial period. Also be wary of providing credit card or bank account information as a condition to using a free trial offer, as these could be used to collect unexpected charges.
- Shop around and do your homework. Ask friends or relatives for recommendations. Search for reviews online and contact the Consumer Protection Division to find out if complaints have been filed against the health club you are considering. If there are several health clubs with the same name in your area, find out whether all of the locations will honor your membership.
- Exercise caution. If the club is advertising an unrealistically low price, be cautious.
- Closing or changing ownership. Immediately reference the Attorney General’s Business Sudden Closure consumer alert. If the business changes ownership but remains open, ask the new owner for a contract containing the same terms as the one you have. Unless the new owner is honoring your old contract, you can’t be required to join the new club. If you cannot get written confirmation that your old contract will be honored and the new business refuses to provide a satisfactory resolution, file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division.
- Shop Smart! Be an informed consumer to make sure the only weight you lose is not from your wallet.
Contact the Attorney General for Help
If you encounter problems when you enter into a new health club membership contract, or are having problems with a health club membership you have had for a while, you may contact the Michigan Department of Attorney General, Consumer Protection Division, to ask questions or file a complaint. Direct any questions or complaints to:
Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form