Beware of health club scams, says Better Business Bureau

Most of us, present company included, are looking to drop a few pounds in the new year, and many of us will likely sign up with a local health club in the hopes that will help us shed the weight. However, Better Business Bureau advises consumers to consider the terms of any contract carefully before joining a gym.

In 2012, the BBB processed more than 650 complaints against gyms and fitness centers nationwide. Most of them concerned contract disputes and billing issues. Other common issues involved consumers who either did not understand a gym’s cancellation policies or gyms that did not cancel contracts as requested. Many contracts require a 30 or 60-day written notice of cancellation and automatically renew after the contract expiration date.

The BBB offers the following advice to help consumers select a fitness facility that best meets their needs:

Before signing a contract, research the gym at to see its BBB Business Review, which will show any history of complaints and its BBB rating.

Consider your budget. Most facilities charge an up-front membership fee to join and a monthly fee thereafter. In addition, some fitness centers charge an additional fee for certain classes or amenities. It is important to decide beforehand how much money you can comfortably devote to physical fitness.

Ask around. Ask friends and family to recommend facilities, and pick a couple that appear to align with your fitness goals and budget.

Visit each club on a day and time that you plan to use it to see if you like the equipment, clientele, classes, amenities and cleanliness. This will also give you a sense of how crowded each club will be at the times you want to access the equipment.

Do not give in to sales pressure. Walk away from clubs that pressure you to sign a contract on the spot. BBB recommends taking a sample contract home to review before making a decision.

Review the contract before signing. Make sure it lists all services and fees, and any promises made by the salesperson. Find out what is included in the monthly fee and what will cost extra.

Get membership details. It is vital to understand how long the membership term is, whether it automatically renews and what steps you have to take in order to cancel. Some facilities give customers several days to reconsider after signing the contract.

Before beginning an exercise program or diet, Better Business Bureau advises consumers to consult a doctor for an assessment of over-all health risks. Get the doctor’s recommendations on weight-loss options and/or exercise regimens that fit your health status and ability to stick with it.

Amanda Cuda