(CBS Detroit) New Year’s Day — and its sometimes painful resolutions — is just around the corner. And joining a gym will top the list of resolutions for many metro Detroiters.

But what do you need to know before you sign on the dotted line? The Better Business Bureau has the answer.

So far in 2011, your BBB has received 10,886 complaints nationally about gyms, health clubs and fitness centers putting the industry in the top 20 for most complained about businesses.  Not only does your BBB receive a lot of complaints about gyms, but complaints increased by 9.5 percent over the same period in 2010.

“Regardless of how eager you are to start losing weight in the New Year, take the time to do your research before joining a gym and don’t give in to high-pressure sales pitches,” said Patrick Bennett, BBB Director of Community Relations. “Always check the health club out with your Better Business Bureau, inspect the facilities closely and read the contract carefully, making sure that all of the promises are in print.”

BBB recommends asking the gym and yourself the following questions before signing up for a membership:

Questions to ask the gym:

  • Is there a trial membership?  Will they let you do a trial membership for a few days or a week before you sign the contract? Many gyms will give you a free trial. Some will even let you pay month-to-month at first to determine if the gym is right for you.
  • What are the terms of any introductory offers? Gyms often use special introductory offers to lure in new members. Just make sure you understand the terms and what the price will be once the introductory period is over.
  • Will my membership renew automatically? Every year, BBB receives a large number of complaints from people who joined a gym and didn’t realize that their contract would renew automatically and that they would have to take specific steps to cancel their contract.
  • How can I get out of my contract? Getting out of a gym contract isn’t always as easy as getting into one. So make sure you understand what steps you would need to take to cancel your membership.
  • Do they freeze memberships? If you become sick or injured and are unable to use the gym for a period of time, will they freeze the membership?
  • What happens if I move or travel frequently? Gyms have any number of different policies when it comes to how moving or traveling will affect your membership. It might depend on how far away you’re moving and if they have other locations nearby.  Ask if they have a reciprocal agreement with other gyms throughout the country? If you travel a great deal, you will want this.
  • What happens if you go out of business? BBB often receives complaints from people after their gym suddenly closed up shop and took their money with them. Ask the gym to explain what will happen to your money if they suddenly go out of business.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my fitness goals? Determining your fitness goals in advance will help you select a facility that is most appropriate for you. Make sure the gym has the equipment to meet your needs and a trainer to help. If you have a serious health condition, consult with a medical professional when setting your fitness goals.
  • Is this location convenient? If the gym is across town, you’ll be less likely to workout. Choose a fitness club that is convenient to work or home so the location is not a deterrent to getting exercise.
  • How is the atmosphere? Is the staff caring and helpful? Are the bathrooms, showers and equipment clean? What is the clientele like? Will it be an enjoyable experience for you to workout in the same facility with them?
  • Can I really afford this every month? Monthly gym fees add up and, after any introductory periods are over, the price could jump higher than your budget can handle. Do the math before you join and make sure you can afford a gym membership.
  • Am I feeling pressured to join? Do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics to join right away. A reputable gym will give you enough time to read the contract thoroughly, tour the facilities and make an informed decision.
  • Did I get everything in writing? Read the contract carefully and make sure that all verbal promises made by the salesperson are in writing.  What matters is the document you sign, so don’t just take a salesperson’s word for it.

For more advice from BBB on how to be a savvy consumer all year long, visit http://easternmichigan.bbb.org/Consumer-Tips/.


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