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Health club memberships Get fit be smart

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YONKERS, N.Y. (1/15/08)--Like many individuals, you vowed to lose those 10 extra pounds this year. But before agreeing to drop big bucks along with those pounds, don’t be swayed to join the first health club you visit (Consumer Reports February 2008). You can make the most of a health-club membership by doing the following according to the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Reports:
* Know the history. Find out if others have complained about the fitness center you want to join by contacting your local consumer protection office, state attorney general, or Better Business Bureau. You’ll also find out if your state has laws regulating health-club memberships. * Put on your inspector’s hat. Visit the facility around the same time that you’ll generally be using it. Is it overcrowded? Is it clean? Is it open during convenient times? * Scrutinize that contract. Don’t let fitness center employees con you into signing up right away based on a deal that’s about to expire. Most clubs have some leeway on how long offers are good. Take the contract home and review it. There are two key details to look for:
* Make sure everything the salesperson offered is written in the contract. Know details as far as rate hikes, transferring memberships, and what will happen if you need to cancel your membership because of a move; and * Know payment details. When calculating total costs, don’t forget about finance charges and annual percentage rates--if there are any. Break down the monthly payment to find out what you’re paying weekly—and even monthly.
* Check out options on type of club to join. You might find you like all the extras the big-name facilities offer, or you might decide a community center or work-place gym is all you need. * Inquire about free trials and ask about membership discounts. If you’re a senior citizen or a student you may be eligible for a discounted rate. * Use your membership to your advantage. If possible, use the facility during off-peak hours and sign up with a personal trainer. Leave personal valuable items at home. For health safety, use the alcohol spray or wipes most facilities provide, wash hands frequently, and don’t share towels with others.
For more tips on smart financial choices, visit the “Consumer Protection” section in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.