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Before you join a gym, do this to avoid contract "gotchas"

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If you're thinking about joining a fitness center, be aware that a lot of people who join gyms in January only stick with it for a couple of months.

Unfortunately, a lot of those who quit the gym still get stuck making monthly payments.

A big part of the fitness club business relies on recurring revenue from membership contracts- which can often continue to bill you each month regardless of whether you use the facility.

Before you make a gym membership committment- visit a number of facilities and compare.

Don't be distracted by bells and whistles. Pay attention to things like cleanliness, the condition of all the equipment, plus the overall maintenance of the entire facility.

A lot of gyms have great looking equipment, but does it work like it should? Is the equipment available at times that fit your schedule? Is there enough of the specific equipment you need?

Also pay attention to pools, showers and restrooms. Look for signs of mold and/or mildew. Are there plenty of towels and other supplies? Do the rooms and stalls show signs of regular cleaning?

Observe other gym users. If possible, ask how long they've been using the facility. An established gym that's dominated by new members, might be a sign that longer-term members had reason to quit.

Notice the staff. Are workers engaged, professional and interested in their work? How is the interaction between fitness staff and the people at the front desk?

Ask about getting a day pass or short-term trial membership.

A trial membership can be a great way to get a feel for a place. But before you do that, read the terms. And before you join any fitness club, read every word of that contract- because the devil's in the details.

Pay special attention to payment methods, renewal and cancellation policies, and refund policies.

What happens if you get an injury or long-term illness and can no longer use the facility?

What if you have to move out of the area?

Even worse, what if the gym goes out of business without warning?

The state Attorney General's website has a whole section on health clubs and what you should know- including the most common consumer complaints- state health club laws, and your rights and responsibilities if you want to cancel a membership.

Also be sure to check kick the Federal Trade Commission's health club alerts.

Be careful about special introductory offers. Find out what the monthly fees will be after the introductory period and get it in writing.

Also be sure to check consumer reviews- not just on Yelp, but reliable, non-pprofit consumer advocacy websites like checkbook.org. ( unbiased, subsctription-based local ratings and research) Also check with the Better Business Bureau.

According to the BBB, fitness centers were some of the most complained about businesses in 2017.

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