Running up a Debt at the Gym
Running up a Debt at the Gym
For many of us, the end of the holidays is one of those key points in our year where we aim to reboot our lives with some mini resolutions.
Pay off the debt we accrued over the holidays, lose some weight from too many visits to the beer garden, to having some “me” time when the kids have returned to school.
For some of us we aim to not just re-balance our finances, but also lose some pounds by joining a gym.
However, if you’re not careful when joining a gym you can lose more than just a few pounds.
Get it wrong and it can cost you hundreds, damage your credit rating and have debt collectors pursuing you like they are doing a hundred metre sprint.
Why should you be worried about running up a debt at the gym?
The problem is when joining a gym many of us start with the best of intentions, but when these fall to the wayside, or our circumstances change, or we move house or become ill, it is not always possible to keep up our gym visits. Then we discover our gym still expects us to keep paying; and escaping a gym contract can be more difficult than escaping a Jiu-Jitsu arm lock.
The reason being is gym operators know their market is extremely tough, and although at certain times of the year they will see a surge in membership, people then drop off quickly which means a loss in income for them.
So they maximise their grip on you by signing you to up to the legal equivalent of a Judo headlock.
What should you look out for in a gym contract?
The first thing to do when signing a gym contracts is look at the detail. What are you signing: a one month rolling contract or a one year fixed term contract?
Even if it is just a one month rolling contract, you may think you are pretty safe, but many of these contracts will automatically renew each month and you will need to give one month’s notice to quit. Get the dates wrong and you may find you are tied in for another month.
If it is a one year contract, then even if you stop going, you may find you still have to pay for the full year and with £50-60 per month fees not being unusual, that can mean a bill of £6-700.
Some contracts may even be for longer or you may find trying to cancel means not only giving the correct notice, but putting your cancellation in writing or phoning a helpline that isn’t very helpful.
What should you do before joining a Gym?
The first thing you should do before joining a gym is ask yourself do you need to. You don’t need to be in a gym to work out and get in shape.
There are lots of free fitness activities and local groups you can participate in if you want to get fit; and with the availability of fitness apps for smart phones, you won’t struggle to find work outs to keep yourself busy.
Also check out if there are any fitness classes running in your local community centres. Most of these from Yoga, to Zumba or any number of martial arts, will be on a pay as you go basis and avoid you having to sign up to a contract
Joining a Gym?
If you do decide to join a gym, remember it is a very competitive market, so expect a free trial before you sign anything. Most gyms will offer you tasters, from the first class, to the first week free.
Also be prepared to haggle. They want and need your business, so explain how much you expect to use it. Why should you pay the same as those who live in the gym and use the facilities more often? The truth is most gyms will do deals, especially if you don’t want to use all the facilities or classes.
Check before you sign
Before you sign anything, check what you are signing. What is the contract length, will it automatically renew and how much notice do you have to give if you want to cancel? There has been an English High Court decision that said gym contracts that last longer than one year are likely to be unfair and can be challenged.
Also ask what happens if you do move away or become ill? Do they allow you to terminate your contract without any penalty? If they say they do, check the small print to make sure it’s there and what evidence you need to provide.
Also ask if they are members of UKActive, the UK trade body for gyms; or if you are looking for a gym, find one through their website. They have a Code of Practice and a complaints procedure that they expect all their members to sign up to, which means if you cannot resolve matters with your own gym, you can at least take your complaint further.
What happens if you stop paying your Membership Fee?
If you do stop paying or cannot afford your membership fee, you may find you will be contacted by the gym demanding the full amount.
You may also find it could damage your credit rating.
Contact the firm in the first instance and explain your circumstances. With the sector being so competitive, more and more gyms are now trying to improve their customer relations, so may want to avoid a negative customer experience.
However, if they do decide to continue to pursue you and pass your debt out for collection, you should seek advice.
If you want to speak with a Carrington Dean Money Adviser for free confidential advice on your finances telephone 0808 2085 195.
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