New year, new, fitter you?

Improving one's health is a common New Year's resolution. However, for 2019, Strava, a social network focused on fitness, found that in the U.S., people were most likely to abandon their fitness goals on Jan. 17.

The reality may be that, at some point, you may want to reconsider that gym you just joined. Therefore,  it seems worth exploring the commitment, what can be included in gym membership fees and ways to cancel to minimize cost.

Tom Holland, exercise physiologist and author of "Beat the Gym," stresses the importance of reading a contract, including the fine print, away from the gym before signing up. 

At home, "you get to read it, see what the cancellation fees are and what the terms are," he says, predicting walking away may even result in the gym calling you to say "'no initiation (fee), come back.' So, you save money in the short term and potentially the long term."

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Though a gym may promote one monthly rate, that amount may not include everything a member is expecting, like access to multiple gym locations. 

For example, on its website, Planet Fitness, a chain that has more than 1,800locations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, advertises a membership with a $10 monthly fee with no commitment (noting this is available only at participating locations and warning cost may vary by facility.) However, a membership that costs $22.99 per month allows members to use locations other than just their home gym – along with other amenities.

And a monthly fee may not be the only cost a gym-goer is responsible for. Initiation and/or annual fees may also be required.

A member of WOW! Work Out World, which has a handful of locations in Connecticut, complained of unexpected charges to the Better Business Bureau on Oct. 16. "I was charged an extra ($40) this month without my consent in the midst of trying to cancel my membership," the post reads. "That is not what I agreed to when I signed up - I agreed to pay ($10) monthly and they frequently take money from me...They do not cancel your membership when you ask." In its response, the gym stated that this member had been under contract since 2016 and signed off on the policy that "a Certified Letter is required to cancel her membership" and "That a $39.00 plus tax Enhancement Fee would be charged Annually and is charged to every member."

Answering another complaint in 2018, WOW! reminded another person that "the processing time is 30 days" for a cancellation, and, per the gym's policy, members are "responsible for the dues in the month in which you cancel plus the following month, during which you may use all services included in your membership." 

In a 2018 post doling advice for joining a gym, the BBB warns: "Gyms often use special introductory offers to encourage new members, but the price could go up more than you budgeted once the initial period is over. Make sure you understand what the regular monthly fees will be and what they include."

Travis Jacobs, managing partner at The Jacobs Law in Boston, advises getting a list of fees from the gym, much like a bank provides, to get the ultimate clarity. "If the gym doesn’t have that, I would be suspicious." 

In addition to reading over a gym's cancellation policy very carefully, Holland and Jacobs offer some tips for making canceling as painless as possible and minimizing fees.

Request a cancellation form at sign-up

If a gym requires you cancel in person, Jacobs suggests getting a copy of the form before joining the gym. "I’ve had so many people say, 'I’ve asked for the form 100 times. It’s been two months. No one sends me the form. No one has it when I go to the counter,' " he cautions.   

Eliminate items on the contract you disagree with

"Look at it, and if there’s something you disagree with, feel free to cross it off," says Holland, "and then hand it back and say, 'Yeah, I'm gonna join, but I don’t agree with this or this.' "

Don't be afraid to negotiate

Holland says, "You can negotiate almost everything. ... I would say many more things are negotiable – whether it’s the initiation, the monthly (fee) – than you think."

Contemplate your payment method

Holland suggests paying upfront leaving "nothing for them to charge. When you’re done, you’re done."

Jacobs adds: "Once they’ve taken your money, it’s hard to (get it) back from them." 

Take action if you're being met with resistance about canceling

Jacobs recommends disgruntled members write a demand letter for their gym.

"They’re very easy to draft. There are samples all over the internet," he says noting an attorney is not needed. "Typically, if you send them one of these letters, they’ll take you a little bit more seriously, and they may refund your money or stop charging you.

"If that doesn’t work, then most people can get a lawyer to draft a one-page demand letter like that for maybe $100," he adds, "and, depending on your membership fee, it’s probably worth it." 

Letting a gym know you may take your complaints to social media could help, says Holland. "I think a lot of gym chains ... don’t want the negative publicity," he says. "I hesitate to use the word threaten, but just say there are social media remedies that are potentially at your disposal that they don’t want."