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Get fit without getting taken

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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

One of the most frequent New Year's resolutions that people make is to join a gym.  If you resolve to get in shape in 2013, the Better Business Bureau has information to help you get fit, without getting taken.

In the last 36 months, the BBB has received hundreds of complaints about local fitness clubs and exercise programs.

The most common complaints consumers have focus on two areas, contract disputes and billing issues.

"After weeks of holiday parties and big meals, many people resolve to join a gym and lose weight," said BBB President Tom Bartholomy. "Given that the New Year is the peak time for gym membership sales, the BBB encourages consumers to read the fine print before signing a fitness club contract."

While some complaints regarding billing are basic billing errors, the majority of billing complaints center on being billed after the member felt their contract had expired.

Many consumers either assumed their contract would not be renewed, or filed the appropriate paperwork to cancel their membership, but continued to have fees withdrawn from their bank accounts.

Contract dispute complaints vary, but typically involve disagreements over promises made by the salesperson versus what the membership actually included, and the policy for getting out of the contract if the member relocated to another area.

"If you are looking to join a gym, you should do your research before you sign a contract," added Bartholomy. "In the last 36 months, the BBB has received thousands of inquiries about gyms and fitness clubs."

The BBB has six steps to help you get fit without getting taken:

Check with the BBB. Find out what kind of track record fitness clubs in your area have at BBB

Consider your budget and monthly cash flow. Most facilities charge an up-front membership fee to join and a monthly fee that is usually paid by automatic withdrawal from your checking account.

Check out the facilities. Visit several different clubs on days and at times that you plan to exercise to see how crowded they are. Do not give in to sales pressure. Many clubs will be offering "New Year's Specials" – walk away from clubs that pressure you to sign a contract on the spot. In fact, take a sample contract home to read it thoroughly.

Read the entire contract. Does it list all services and facilities and the hours of operation? Is everything that the salesperson promised in the contract? What is included in the monthly fee, and what will cost you extra? What is the total cost and payment schedule, including enrollment fees and finance charges?

Know the membership details. How long is the membership term and is there an automatic renewal? Can you go month-to-month? What are your cancellation rights if you move to another area, are injured, or the club closes or is taken over by new management? Get the cancellation policy and the refund policy in writing. 

For more information, please visit BBB or call 1-877-317-7236 toll-free in N.C. and S.C.

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