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Save money on your fitness resolution

Losing weight and getting in shape probably rank as two of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. Joining a health club is a great idea – and a total waste of money if you don’t actually exercise in the facility. Some clubs are also more interested in reducing your wallet than your waistline.

Health clubs hold their biggest – and most profitable – membership drives during and right after the holiday season, but resist the temptation to sign up for a one-, three, or five-year membership despite the enticement of lower annual costs for the longer memberships.

According to the website, monthly club fees average $35 to $40 for a single membership but can dip as low as $20 depending on your age and length of commitment to the club. Many clubs also charge an average enrollment fee of $40; some charge more than $100.

Rates often drop by 25 percent for annual contracts or if you pay your yearly dues up front, the site adds.

Contract arrangements especially sometimes go sour. Nationwide, consumers filed thousands of complaints in recent years against fitness centers and health clubs, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Some unscrupulous clubs oversell memberships, then go bankrupt and open a few months later under a different corporate name. If they shutter after two years and you paid upfront for five, you’re out of luck.

Even if you visit a reputable and honest club, realize that most people do not keep a New Year’s resolution to work out. In January, February and perhaps March, the classes are crammed and you wait to use the machines. By April, often only hard-core regulars still use the facility.

Better that you join a health club that has a small initial fee and then charges you monthly with no contract. If you stop working out in a few months, you don’t lose much. Similarly, avoid the temptation to sign up for a half-year or 12-month contract with a personal trainer.

Sign no contract on the spot or in a rush. Even better, you can try to arrange to pay only per actual visit.

Other tips:

• Don’t let the club charge your credit or debit card. Insist on paying upfront for a specific period instead of letting them ding your cards for a charge month after month.

• In a classic and frequent nightmare, members try to cancel membership and the club refuses. Then a club keeps charging the member’s card – and even unleashes a collection agency on the member if he or she cancels the credit card.

• Know your cancellation rights, the BBB advises. The health club must refund your money within 15 days, minus any time you used the club. After three days, the club also can’t charge an extra fee if you cancel for health reasons or you move at least 25 miles away from one of the club’s locations, among other conditions.

• Use a city-owned facility. Many municipalities operate great health and fitness facilities. For instance, Tempe, Ariz., where I live, and surrounding locales offer exercise facilities, tennis courts and a large indoor heated pool. Normal daily admission runs about $5, even less with a monthly pass. (See ideas from a previous WNY Refresh story on such options at Benefits can extend beyond dollars. I find city-owned workout facilities much more low-key, inviting and accepting than many private health clubs.

Studies show that many out-of-shape people hesitate to join a health club because of the youth, figures and muscles of other members. I find city-owned facilities draw a mainly older crowd, people just trying to stay healthy.

Remember, the cost of the club pales compared to how often you exercise.

Harold Wong is a CPA with a doctorate in economics and writes a column on money for the Arizona Republic. Follow AdviceIQ on Twitter at @adviceiq.

See related stories, Pages 3, 8-9