end gym membership

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Quick notes:

  • Prepare yourself before attempting to cancel your gym membership — reread your contract, and expect to negotiate with the fitness center manager.
  • Whatever you do, don’t just stop making payments to the gym, as this will only make matters worse.
  • Posting about your experience online can be an effective way to get a response from a gym.

Any workout aficionado has been there — you join a gym, sign up for the monthly subscription, and ultimately decide the workout facilities aren’t for you. Eventually, you want out.

Hey, you’re not alone in the gym-skipping department.

A recent study from the University of California says that new gym members have high hopes going into the experience — they expect to hit the weights and the exercise bikes 9.5 times per month, on average. The reality is they go a lot less — only about four times per month.

At $60 per month for the membership (and that’s not counting the initiation fee), you’re spending $15 per workout, and that’s not a good return on your gym investment. What’s worse is just walking away from your gym contract and stopping paying. That’s an unhealthy response to your gym membership situation that can wind up costing you plenty.

“I see collections on credit reports all the time for gym memberships,” says Jeanne Kelly, a credit coach in Rhinebeck, New York, and author of the book, The Credit Makeover. “When a collection hits your credit report it can drop your score as much as 75 points. So, it’s not just the money you may owe if your gym contract is not canceled correctly, it can also damage your credit score big time.”

Unfortunately, it has proven to be more difficult to get out of a gym contract than a time-share, auto lease, or other migraine-inducing subscription contracts.

The good news? There are effective ways to bench-press a gym subscription and toss it out the window.

Start sprinting away with these gym membership-busting tips.

Be prepared to negotiate. Get ready to haggle your gym contract termination out. “Be prepared for a challenging negotiation,” says Simon Nowak, chief executive officer at 3 Credit Scores in Los Angeles, California. “You won’t be the first person they’ve encountered trying to terminate a contract. They’re also acting on instruction and training to keep you as a member.”

Reread your gym contract. Hopefully, you read the fine print of your contract before signing. If not, reread it now to gain some inside knowledge. “You don’t ever want to unconditionally commit to a gym membership for a year or more at a time,” Nowak says. “Your contract should have a clause where you can terminate your gym deal with 30 or 45 days written notice. It’s unfortunate paying for a month you won’t use but the short-term hit might be worth the long-term relief.”

Don’t quit “cold turkey.” You can’t simply cut off payments to the gym through your bank or credit card, Nowak says. “The gym will continue charging you and eventually, they’ll pass the debt to a collection agency,” he notes. “In addition to harassment from debt collectors, you may have to pay their legal fees on top of your debt.”

State your case in writing. “Most gym contracts do need to be canceled in writing no matter how friendly you are at the counter with the gym assistants,” Kelly says. “Send a letter to the gym via certified mail and include a signed receipt. Then follow up to confirm they received the cancellation letter by a quick phone call. If possible, ask them to send you a letter or email to confirm your membership is canceled.”

Tell the gym you no longer want your personal financial data stored online. According to a recent survey by Bankrate, 59% of survey respondents who signed up for a “free trial” were later charged for a service (like a gym membership) against their will.

“Quite often, companies will request payment information in exchange for a free trial of their service,” the study states. “What many people don’t realize is this stored information can then be used to extend the term of service — many times unbeknownst to the user.”

If the fitness center refuses to release your financial information, call your bank and put a stop on any charges from the gym or fitness center. Once that happens, gyms will more than likely give up and let the contract issue go.

Take your case to the public. Justin Danford, director of marketing at American Online Pharmacy, grew so fed up with the foot-dragging from one national fitness chain that he took matters into his own hands.

“I’m an avid gym-goer,” Danford says. “A few years ago, doctors found a large tumor in my leg. I needed a lot of testing, biopsies, and surgery. So I promptly asked (a major gym) to pause my account. They charge you to do so. I told them I’ll quit and come back later.”

The fitness giant told Danford that if he quit, he may come back to higher prices. Danford told the company he’d rather take that risk than pay to not go.

“After some more back and forth, I finally took to what I know best — online reputation,” he says. “I posted my entire story about taking a month trying to cancel, with no luck.”

Danford posted his message on BBB Complaints and on Facebook. “Within 24 hours I was contacted and lied to about their policies (the company claimed they fired staffers for giving Danford inaccurate information about canceling his gym contract), and promptly had my membership canceled. They also refunded me for the one month I spent trying to cancel.”

“These gyms make good money screwing people over, and it’s worth it to go online quickly and get a complaint resolved,” he adds.

Into the octagon

If you think persistence means finishing that 60-minute Peloton bike workout, you’ve never stepped into the octagon with a fitness center manager who refuses to release you from your gym membership.

The fact is, you may be forced to fight back against a gym that just won’t take “no” for an answer. Leverage the tips listed above to teach resistant fitness center owners a “no means no” lesson they won’t forget.

A deeper dive — Related reading on the 101:

Once you do get out of that gym contract, follow these tips to continue burning fat.

Gyms are on the list of things Millennials are blamed for killing. 

If you’re a man, you’re probably better off playing sports than hitting the gym, anyway.