Don't Waste Your Money: 4 things to ask before joining a gym

January is the biggest month of the year for health club sign ups, as millions of Americans try to lose those pounds we put on over the holiday.

But before you grab what appears to be a great offer from a gym, we have 4 things you need to know, that could prevent you from paying more than you expected.

Discounts Everywhere Right Now

Gyms and health clubs are all making pitches this month, with super deals to get you to join.

But many of the folks we spoke with in a downtown lunch crowd have either heard gym horror stories, or have had a bad gym experience personally, like Susie Grau did.

"They signed me up for a personal trainer," Grau said, "and the person was never around.  And when I tried to get out of it, it cost me $250 to get out of the contract."

Kelly Gray also regrets locking into a year long contract. "I would prefer going on a month by month basis," Gray said, because I obviously don't use it as much as I should."

The financial website Credit.com says many gyms are expert at signing you up, but are terrible when you try to cancel.

What to Know Before Joining

So before you sign any contract, the report says:

    -Ask about penalties you may face if you cancel your membership early.

    -Don't believe verbal promises about classes, child care, or anything else.  If it is not written in the contract, it's worthless.

    -Pay the bill monthly by check or credit card:  If you give a gym your checking account number, billing can continue long after you try to cancel
    
Consumer Reports Magazine, meantime, also has some some great advice as well.
    
The magazine says:

   -Before you commit to a contract, ask if you can try the gym out free for a week. Then, negotiate for an even better rate.
 
Consumer Reports also says keep an eye out for gym deals on social media sites like Facebook and twitter. And look for offers on saving sites like Groupon, Living Social, and Gilt.

Finally, look hard for gyms that will let you go month to month.

More than half of all people who join a gym in January drop out by May. But if you are under contract you have to pay till the end of the year.

So ask tough questions, so you don't waste your money.

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Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.

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