BY JOEY FERNANDEZ Contributing columnist
Editor's note: Action Line is a weekly column from the Better Business Bureau answering consumers' questions and concerns about money and business issues.
Dear Action Line:
I, like millions of other Americans, need to get fit! This holiday season has not been nice to my waist line. I'm shopping around for local gyms to join and I don't have a clue as to what to look for. Help!
I can totally relate. The holidays are over and many consumers, including me, are turning their thoughts toward making 2013 better than 2012. According to USA.gov, one of the most common New Year's resolutions is to get fit. Gyms and fitness centers are more than happy to accommodate, offering countless promotions and deals to get people through the door and into a contract.
However, Better Business Bureau advises consumers to consider the terms of any contract carefully before joining a gym. In 2012, BBB processed more than 650 complaints against gyms and fitness centers nationwide. Most of those complaints focused on contract disputes and billing issues. Consumers turned to BBB after gym salespeople made big promises that never materialized. Often, the consumer would later find out that those promises were not included in the written contract, and the fitness center refused to honor verbal agreements.
Another common issue involved consumers who either did not understand the 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.
BBB offers the following advice to help consumers select a fitness facility that best meets their needs:
* 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 what amount 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 the contract 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 to cancel. Some facilities give customers several days to reconsider after signing the contract. To check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit cencal.bbb.org.
-- Joey Fernandez is assistant director of business services for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 1601 H St., Suite 101, Bakersfield, CA 93301 or firstname.lastname@example.org. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.