gym membership pitfalls contract problemsIf you're ready to commit to going a gym to get fit, be careful.

Complaints against gyms and health clubs are increasing, reports the Better Business Bureau. In 2009, the BBB received more than 7,780 complaints, up 21% from the previous year.

Six California consumers, all of whom filed complaints with the BBB, told Consumer Ally their stories to help others avoid the pitfalls that they experienced."In Northeast California, complaints against health clubs rose 67.5% from 2009 to 2010," Katie Robison, spokeswoman for the Northeast California BBB, told Consumer Ally.

Take the time to do research before joining a gym and don't give in to high-pressure sales pitches, Gary Almond, BBB president, said in a statement. "Always check the health club out with your BBB, inspect the facilities closely and read the contract carefully, making sure that all of the promises are in print."

When you sign up for a gym, watch out for these problems:

Introductory Offers

When Karen Cawthorn, 52, inquired about a gym membership offer for the month of January, she was told that she wouldn't have to pay the $150 fee to join and the first month would be free.

However, when Cawthorn went back to the gym on Jan. 31, the manager said the introductory offer was discontinued on Jan. 24.
gym membership issues miranda hawkinson
If You Move

After using a gym for a year, Miranda Hawkinson, 30, (pictured at right) moved. When Hawkinson talked to the gym about terminating her membership, she was told she'd signed a three-year contract.

Among Hawkinson's attempts to negotiate a way to cancel the contract was to arrange to have another couple take over her and her husband's memberships. And, at one point, she received a $120 refund. However, she continued to be charged $40 a month until she convinced her bank to block the automatic payments.

Contract Terms

Catherine Johnson, 67, thought the gym contract she signed was for one year. Because she didn't like how the exercise equipment was organized, Johnson only used the gym twice.

However, when she wanted to cancel the contract, she was told that the contract was for two years. Although the gym allowed her to reduce the automatic payments from her bank account to $10 a month for a time, Johnson couldn't get the contract canceled until the District Attorney's Office stepped in –- three years later.

High-Pressure Sales

When Richard Parker, 47, and his wife Virginia wanted to join a gym, an enthusiastic employee gave them a tour. At the end, he offered them a two-for-one deal if they signed up that day: $200 for both of them for a year. He told the Parkers they'd had nine days to cancel the contract if they changed their minds.

Three days later, although she was interested in working out, Virginia said she wanted a refund because the gym wasn't well ventilated.

Numerous attempts by the Parkers to get a refund, including several within the nine-day cancellation limit, failed.

Richard said the gym used high-pressure sales. "It was pushy in the way he was trying to sign us up."

Oral Promises

gym membership pitfalls julia rayIn November, when Julia Ray, 49, (pictured at right) and her sister wanted to join a gym to work on health problems, a heated pool was important to them. They were told the pool would be heated in two weeks.

The yearly membership price was quoted at $300 each. They paid $600 in cash.

Attempts to get refunds failed – and the pool still isn't heated. Ray uses the gym to get something for her money, but her sister refuses.

Contract Cancellation

When Teresa Winkle, 29, wanted to cancel her gym membership, she had problems. Hanewinckel had read her contract and knew she needed to give a 30-day notice.

However, when she talked to management at the gym, she was told that what the wording of contract actually meant she needed to give a 60-day notice.

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