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How To Get a Fitness Pass on a Dime

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If you're like most people, you're trying to get in shape for beach season! Here's a warning so you can avoid getting eaten alive by gym salespeople.

The health club industry basically has two business models. In the good one, you pay month-to-month or quarterly with no real contract. The sleazy business model, however, involves long-term contracts designed to give your checking account a workout.

With the sleazoids, the downfall begins when they offer you a free tour of their facilities. The tour is done by a commissioned salesperson with the intention of getting you to sign a multi-year contract.

Once you sign that contract, the gym does what's called "moving paper." They sell it off to a finance company that will take the note on for pennies on the dollar. That creates additional incentive for the club to sign up more members--and hope none of them ever show up and all try to workout at once!

In a recent filing for the Securities and Exchange Commission, former gym industry heavyweight Bally Total Fitness disclosed that the average member visits the club one-half of one time per week. You'd be hard-pressed to find any fitness expert who recommends a full workout once every two weeks!

I recommend checking out hospital-affiliated fitness centers. They're usually rehab-based or geared toward the hospital staff. They're clean, well run and don't force contracts. Most hospital gyms will sell memberships to the public. Visit the hospital nearest you to see if a gym is available.

Another option I've noticed popping up in vacant storefronts around town are ultra-low cost no-frills gym that are open 24 hours and tend to price out at around $15 each month with no contract. But beware they may not even have showers for you to use; they simply offer the use of exercise equipment at rock-bottom prices.

For more money-saving tips, visit ClarkHoward.com. Money in Your Pocket. Advice You Can Trust.