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Joining a gym? Think financial fitness

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Are you thinking about getting in shape for 2018? Getting healthier is a great resolution to make, and fitness studios and gyms always see higher enrollment at the beginning of the year.

But be careful that your fitness motivations aren’t leading you to make financial decisions that will see the numbers drop in your bank account before they do on the scale. If you’re looking to enroll in a health club or a gym membership, here are some things you can do to find the best fit, both physically and financially.

Before you start looking at clubs, take a look at your budget and determine what you can realistically afford to spend on fitness. Many clubs will require both an initial membership fee as well as a monthly recurring fee. Look into clubs in your area and compare costs and offerings so you can get the best value. Don’t be afraid to bargain — clubs often have discounts for students or senior citizens. You might even be able to get a discount through your employer, so be sure to ask what discounts the different gyms have.

Before you sign on with a gym, try a trial membership first. Tour the gym, and ask a staff member to show you around, ideally during the hours you would be most likely to go. This will give you a feel for the gym atmosphere and the staff, and whether the gym will have equipment available during the times you’ll most likely be there. You’ll also get a chance to examine the cleanliness and gym equipment. The trial membership will help you understand whether the gym is right for your needs. If it doesn’t feel like the right fit, you can keep looking for the right place without losing money.

When you do find the gym or health studio that will help you meet your fitness goals, read the contract carefully before you sign it. Watch out for any hidden fees or costs the gym hadn’t discussed with you earlier. Double-check that the fees mentioned match what you discussed with the gym staff, and if you had agreed on any additional concessions or changes in the contract, make sure those are included.

Be sure to read the cancellation and automatic renewal policies closely as well. Consider starting off with a contract for a shorter time period first, and renewing later on, rather than signing a longer contract at the outset. Don’t forget that under North Carolina law, the contract can’t be any longer than three years. When you feel comfortable with the contract and have signed, make sure you get an exact copy for your records immediately.

Once you start using the gym regularly, you might find that it’s not exactly what you had in mind, or you need something different to match your lifestyle. If that’s the case, remember to read through the law on prepaid entertainment contracts to understand your cancellation rights. The law states that you must be informed about your three-day right to cancel and also discusses how you must notify the gym if you cancel.

Wanting to be healthier in the new year is a great goal, and with the right research and planning, both you and your wallet can stay in good shape. Learn more about health clubs/gym memberships, and if you think you, or someone you know, has been scammed by a health club, let us know by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or filing an online complaint at www.ncdoj.gov/complaint.

Josh Stein is the attorney general of North Carolina.

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