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Once your New Year's fitness resolutions have fallen by the wayside, your wallet may be the only thing getting slimmer. Getting out of a gym membership is a workout unto itself.
Subscription management site Truebill.com says among its members, new signups for national gym chains were up 110 percent in the first half of January, compared with the same time frame in November and December. Cancellations typically spike in April.
There tends to be a lag between when people stop going to the gym and when they cancel, in large part because gym cancellation procedures can require hoops like showing up in person or sending a certified letter, said Truebill founder and chief executive Yahya Mokhtarzada.
"They end up paying for months because they can't get around to it," he said.
Contract disputes and billing issues are also a common thread among consumer complaints to the Better Business Bureau. In 2015, the latest figures available, the BBB fielded 2,657 complaints about "fitness centers," plus 1,392 about "exercise and fitness programs."
Start by assessing your chances of a painless cancellation. Reading your membership agreement terms should offer details like how long you're locked in, cancellation procedures and any early-exit fees, Mokhtarzada said.
"Some gyms are actually totally friendly," he said. "Others are unreasonably difficult to cancel."
Some of the tougher contracts may only allow for cancellation if you move more than a certain distance from the gym's nearest outpost, or have a doctor's note detailing an illness or injury that prevents you from exercising.
Be mindful that if your gym is a franchise, the policy may be different than that of corporate-owned locations, said Jessica Monsell, executive director of advocacy site ConsumerSense.org.
Look to your state to see what additional protections may be in play for gym contracts, said Troy Doucet, a consumer litigation attorney in Dublin, Ohio. Many give you the right to cancel a gym contract within a few business days of signing, and set limits on the length of gym memberships.
Once you've done your research, arm yourself with any documentation you might need to make your case, like that doctor's note or a copy of your membership agreement. If your cancellation hinges on a change in policies or services — say, you joined for the boot-camp class, which the gym no longer offers at a time you can attend — make note of that, too, Monsell said.
Bring your request to cancel to the gym manager first. They often need to sign off on cancellations anyway, she said, and may have more leeway to be lenient on terms and fees.
If you'd prefer to have backup, services including GetHuman, Trim and Truebill will attempt to cancel on your behalf, talking to customer service and sending the certified letters many gyms require for cancellation. Depending on the site and which gym you're asking them to contact, such services may be free or as much as $20.
You might also tell your bank to halt recurring membership charges, particularly if you already canceled but continue to be charged, said Monsell.
"You can dispute those charges," she said.
It can also make sense to consult a lawyer. Doucet said his firm often hears from gym-goers looking to exit an unfair contract or get money back from zombie charges after their membership ended.
Depending on state consumer protection laws, such cases can be valuable recourse for a wronged consumer. Under Ohio law, said Doucet, a plaintiff could receive three times what he or she had paid — a refund plus double damages — as well as attorney's fees.