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Why you are usually hosed if your gym closes

Posted at 1:45 PM, Oct 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-14 14:20:59-04

Health clubs have been consolidating at a rapid pace lately, with one gym buying another, then closing some of the poor performing locations.

But what happens when that's your gym, and it closes down? In many cases, you are stuck paying, and driving to an inconvenient and distant gym.

Great deal until it shuts down

Lisa Henderer thought she had a great deal on a gym -- less than $20 a month -- until the club announced it was closing.

Now, Lisa has to drive to their nearest open facility, 15 miles and a lot of traffic away.

"It's a good half hour from my work, even from my home," Henderer said. "And another half hour back home depending on traffic."

She says realistically, she will probably never use the other gym; it's just too inconvenient.

Cannot get out of contract

Making things worse, though, is that she paid for a full year in advance.

"I prepaid, I actually paid in full when I signed up," she said, as it was the only way to get that rate for under $20. 

And gym managers told her she could not get a refund or be excused from the contract.

A common trap

Henderer's dilemma is a common trap when gyms close.

In most states, the law says a gym does not have to offer refunds if they have another location within 20 or 25 miles.

You are still required to fulfill the contract, even if that means paying monthly charges for another six or eight months for a gym you no longer use.

The Better Business Bureau says that's why it's important to understand the contract, so you're not surprised by unexpected developments.

The BBB says the three most common complaints it receives about gyms are:
• The gym suddenly shuts down
• You move away due to a life or job change
• You develop a health problem

Mike Dawson of Better Business Bureau cautions that "they will often get you in a room and pressure you to sign a contract right away, to get their lowest rate. Our advice is to take a contract home and carefully read it before you sign it."

Bottom line: If you must sign a gym contract, ask in advance what happens if it closes or if you move away.

That way you're not surprised, like Henderer and dozens of other customers of her gym, and you don't waste your money.

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