Phillips: Health club liability a too-heavy barbell

Phillips: Health club liability a too-heavy barbell

March 27th, 2010 by Ellen Phillips in Business Ellen Phillips

Q I'm having a problem canceling a health club membership. When I joined several months ago, the salesman assured me if I became unhappy with it, I could cancel without penalty, but that's not happening. Any suggestions? -- Eleanor Exercise

A Dear Ms. Exercise: At the risk of sounding repetitious, get everything in writing, no matter what type contract. While I hate to say it, too many salespeople fib, especially if sales commission dollar signs dance in their heads. In the case of health/fitness clubs, they must provide a written list of all membership plans, including the price and description of each. Special offers and discounts also must be in writing.

Once someone decides on a plan, he should carefully read the contract before taking out the checkbook and signing on the dotted line. Included should be any cancellation terms; if this written information differs from what you're told, then don't let the door hit you on your way out.

As Eleanor doesn't tell me her state and as rules differ among states, the following suggestions are general guidelines for canceling membership (following a three-day right to cancel with all money returned):

-- Mail or deliver to the club a written notice of cancellation; ask the postmaster for a return receipt if the latter for proof of delivery and acceptance. If a hand-to-hand, take two copies and ask the recipient to initial and date both copies. Again, proof is everything.

-- After delivery, the subscriber is under no obligation for any further contract payments. However (again, it should be spelled out in the contract), the responsibility might be to pay the initiation fee if the member financed this fee and signed a nonrefundable clause.

-- At the end of the contract -- usually a year -- a person can cancel, sometimes with 30 days notice, depending on the facility.

And, of course, regulatory agencies often become our life preserver in any case of financial storm if we take those necessary steps I always advocate.

Tax tip: If unemployed in 2009, the stimulus act enables you to exempt up to $2,400 of unemployment benefits. If you are filing jointly and both spouses were out of work and received benefits last year, the exclusion rises to $4,800.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.