Consumer Publications List
Long-Term Contracts: Health Club
Memberships, Lawn Care, and More
offer tremendous savings if you sign a three-year contract." "If you buy a
two-year membership at our health club, you'll be eligible for a discount."
types of sales pitches often encourage consumers to sign long-term contracts for
health club or vacation club memberships, dance or martial arts lessons, lawn
care, pest control, or dating services. However, many consumers who sign
long-term contracts are unhappy later because the service was unsatisfactory,
they really couldn't use the service, or the business closed its doors.
you're thoroughly familiar with the service being sold and the business selling
it, it's always best to sign a short-term contract. Then, if you like the
service and the company, you can sign a long-term contract.
Service May Be Unsatisfactory A Baltimore woman paid $2,700 for a
year's membership in a video dating service. After a few months she still hadn't
had a date. She asked to cancel the membership and get a partial refund, but the
company refused. It said that it never guaranteed members would get dates, that
it only provided a service through which people could view other members' videos
and make contact if they chose.
find out as much as possible about the service and the company before signing
any contract. Check the company's complaint record with the Consumer Protection
Division. If possible, ask the business for names of some customers-and call
exactly does the contract obligate the company to do for you? Ask about any
additional expenses you may be required to pay. For example, if your pest
control company requires the removal of woodwork in order to treat infested
areas, who pays for the carpentry work? If you join a travel club, will your
vacation packages include things like airfare, hotel, meals, processing fees,
and taxes, or are they extra?
what the company will do if the service doesn't do what it's supposed to. Does
the company offer a warranty, and if so, exactly what does that provide?
Might Not Use the Service A Prince George's County mother contracted
with a karate school for classes for her 4-year-old. The agreement obligated her
to pay $943 over three years. When he lost interest after a few lessons, his
mother tried unsuccessfully to cancel the contract.
the best intentions, many consumers find they don't use the services provided
under a long-term contract. Many consumers have joined a health club, only to
find they really don't want to work out regularly. It's frustrating to have to
continue making payments for a service you're not using. Don't assume you'll use
it unless you have used the particular service in the past.
addition, your financial circumstances could change. If you lost your job, or
added a new baby to the family, it might be difficult to continue paying for a
health club membership or lawn care service, for example.
Business May CloseIf a contract requires you to pay a membership fee,
dues or other fees in advance, you could lose that money if the business shut
protect yourself, arrange to pay dues or other fees monthly or quarterly if
possible, so you won't lose a whole year's dues if the business closes. Also, if
you're considering signing a long-term contract with a health club, weight loss
center or martial arts school, check to see whether the business is registered
and bonded. All health clubs, weight loss centers and martial arts schools in
Maryland are required to register annually, and those that require you to pay
significant fees in advance are required to be bonded, which may allow you to
recover your money if the facility closes. Call the Maryland Health Club Unit at
Beware of Misleading Statements
about Cancellation RightsBefore signing a five-year contract with an
Annapolis health club, a woman was assured that she could cancel her membership
if she moved out of the area. Two years later, she did move, but the club
refused to let her out of the contract. It turned out that there were some
affiliated health clubs near her new home, and the contract stipulated that she
could not cancel in that case. She wasn't happy because the other clubs were not
convenient to her new home.
businesses may try to convince you to sign a long-term contract because they say
you can cancel if you change your mind or move out of the area. Be careful. Read
the contract to see if there is a right to cancel and if there are any
limitations put on it.
is no universal right to a "cooling-off" period after you sign a contract.
In Maryland, only a few types of transactions are required to allow you to
cancel within a few days: you have the right to cancel a contract for a health
club, self-defense school or weight loss center within three days after you
sign, and the right to cancel a contract for a timeshare, vacation or campground
membership within 10 days after you sign. You do not have a right to cancel
other types of future service contracts unless it is clearly stated in the
Out for Automatic RenewalsSome contracts will automatically renew at the
end of the initial period, unless you tell the company within a certain period
of time that you do not wish to renew. If you are not sure you will want to
renew, make a note on your calendar of when you must notify the company.
Otherwise, you could be obligated for another term.
Always think twice
before signing a long-term contract for future services. Only do so if you have
checked out the company and are sure you will want the service for the length of
Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection
DivisionConsumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free
200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21202
410-576-6300 / En español 410-230-1712 / 1-888-743-0023 toll-free / TTY: Dial 7-1-1 or 800-735-2258