Can anything happen if I blow off paying my ex-gym?

Background: Mr. Athena and I joined a gym back in January. We both used it extensively for 4-6 weeks, then we both pretty much quit going. We weren’t particularly happy with the service we got there - they ‘lost’ our membership more than once, so when we showed up and swished our card through the reader we couldn’t get in. The gym itself was so-so; some machines were in disrepair, things like spray-bottles of eucalyptis that were supposed to be in the steam room never were, and, in general, the gym seemed to be going downhill. They also were supposed to auto-debit our payments from our checking account, but could never quite do it right so we ended up paying by check. Because of all this, I called 'em sometime in February and cancelled the membership.

Fast forward to the present. I just got a bill from them claiming I owe 'em $400 for membership dues between February and now. I called them, the person I spoke with told me I needed to come in in person and talk to a ‘membership director’ between 10 and 5 on weekdays, and that it was impossible that I cancelled the membership by phone because they require it in writing. WTF? They never told me that when I called - I was under the impression that the membership was over and done with, and we owed them nothing. Now I’m told that not only is our membership still active, but we owe them several hundred dollars.

Mr. Athena is of the opinion that we should just ignore 'em. We’re moving across the country, we’ll never go to that club again, so why not just let them think we owe them hundreds of dollars? I’ve never done anything like that before, but it’s awfully tempting. We’re in the middle of a big move, money is tight, as is time since both of us are working on job-related deadlines that must be completed before we move. I also get a headache when I envision dealing with them - from past experience, I can tell I’m going to be in for a fight if/when I walk in there and attempt to straighten it out. You’d think they’d be able to check their computers, see that we haven’t visited the club since February, and send us on our way. However, I highly doubt they’re going to do that.

So what can they do if we just move away, never come back, and never attempt to straighten this stuff out? Can they screw with our credit rating (I would think not, membership dues are not ‘credit’ per se)?

Maybe you could go and talk to the billing department (as opposed to the membership director, and explain it just like you just explained it now.

Or else just toss away the letter and claim you never recieved it. They’ll have to send registered mail before they can take any action I would think. Is it just me, or was this question asked within the past few months???

Oh hell yes they can screw up your credit!

All they have to say is that they were never notified of your membership cancellation, and that you stopped paying your dues. If you don’t pay, they can report it to the credit bureaus. They may even be able to take you to small claims court and get a judgement.
I would go in there and cancel it in person. I only hope you didn’t sign a long term contract, because if you did, you’ll probably be on the hook for the remainder of the contract.

Cancelling by phone is also a no-no. The gym managment/owners can always deny that they got your phone call. Whats to prove otherwise? No, the best thing to do is to go in and see them and get it in writing.

Also, you say that they had access to your bank to get the monthly membership, but you’ve been paying by check. You need to get it in writing that they do not still have the power to access your bank accounts. IMO, it’s a HUGE mistake to allow business’ access to your personal accounts.

We had no long term contract with them. It was a month to month contract, cancellable at any time. How can they screw up my credit? I didn’t have ‘credit’ with them, per se. I was supposed to be paying for a service that I thought was cancelled.

I maintain I did tell them to cancel my membership. They maintain I didn’t. How can they prove that I didn’t call 'em? They should have records that I never accessed the gym after a certain date.

As far as the auto-deduct thing, I doubt they ever had access since we tried and tried to get 'em to autodeduct and they never did get it right. Had they been autodeducting, I would have noticed that they continued to take money out of my account and would have talked to them about it much earlier.

Did you apply in writing? Did you sign any contracts? Do you have your own personal copies of the contracts?

If you applied to join in writing, you need to cancel in writing. If you signed any contracts, read them to make sure you are on a strong footing.

Failure to pay up is breaking the contract. As stated above, they can screw up your credit history, because you do have a credit history with them. (They provide a service to you. Whether they bill you a month in advance or as you use the service, you still have “credit” with them.)

And just because they never implemented the auto-debit function does not mean they could very well find the paperwork and implement it now! Since there is no written cancellation from you, they may very well be within their legal rights to auto-debit your account(s).

You say you had no contract with them, but in the same sentence say it was month-to-month. You cannot have it both ways. Either you do have a [written | oral ] contract with them or you don’t.

Walking away from a debt just because you don’t want to pay, without knowing the details of the contract, can get you into lots of hot water if they decide to pursue. It makes no difference if the contract is for a gym membership, a car loan, a mortgage or a personal loan. If you signed something and do not live up to the signed agreement, including following the contract to get out of it, you open yourself up to legal action.

What information did you give them when you signed up? If they don’t have your social security number, it will be pretty hard for stuff to end up in your credit file.

Anyway, assuming that the gym does not report to credit agencies (it seems unlikely that they do, but you might call up their HQ and ask), there is still a possibility that they could sue you for the $400, get a default judgment, and then you’ll end up with an unpaid judgment in your credit file. Realistically, it is unlikely that you’d get sued over $400. As a collections attorney, I wouldn’t touch a $400 collection matter against a couple that had left town without $300 or so up front. Of course, nobody would pay $300 for an uncollectable $400 judgment.

A more troubling possibility is that they will try to debit your (closed) checking account for $400 and you will end up with a black mark with “Chex Systems.” This can make it hard to get another checking account.

For what it’s worth, I would consider calling up the Gym’s HQ, explain that you were dissatisfied, that you cancelled your membership, that the cancellation was accepted over the phone, that you are thinking of seeking arbitration with the Better Business Bureau etc. Then ask them what they will do if you refuse to pay. If they say they won’t do anything, you’re probably home free. (Remember to get the name of the person you talk to!!)

If not, my guess is that you’ll be able to settle the matter for $100 or so, which is probably worth it to avoid the hassle. If you do this, make sure to document any arrangement you reach.

Oh yeah, and read your contract first to see if it creates any special problems.

Good luck!!

(standard disclaimer about legal advice)

Unfortunately, this is, I believe how these facilities make money. Yes, they can damage your credit rating. I would notify them immediately in writing that you wish to terminate your membership. Once you have written confirmation of the cancelled membership, protest the amount due in a separate letter.

It seems that the best gyms do not try to force a contract on you. They operate with a “service” mentality. The other places really don’t want you to work out at all. They just want your money.

IME, I have found that gyms can be extremely agressive towards going after you for the money, putting things on your credit report, and even taking you to court. I do not know why this is, but I have seen it happen quite a bit. Just make sure you really are in the right, because this may be a lot of hassle.

I had a similar experience about 6 years ago. Talked to them, told them I was moving away for school in 8 months, they understood, and I signed sans reading much. When it came to moving time they informed me that I owed them 4 months additional dues for the year, and pulled out the contract I signed to prove it. They were right, I thought I was screwed (though it was them who intentionally screwed me in the begining - but lesson about contracts learned)

Last few days I was in town I was talking to one of the guys who worked there behind the counter. Told him about it, and he asked if I was moving away, and whether I was ever coming back. I said “no”, he said just forget it. I asked if they would come after me, he said they never do… it would only be problem if I signed up again a year later at the same place, which I wasn’t going to do. I was kinda surprised that an employee would tell me such things, but I went along with what he said - and he was right. Never heard a word from them. Turns out I did move back to the same house a few years later, and am currently living not more than 2 blocks from the place. I’ve even seen some of the same musclehead employees from time to time, and they don’t have a clue who I am.

This place (and many others I imagine) go through ownership/management changes fairly often. This one started as a well recognized name, got busted for selling steroids, and has changed names and owners I assume about 3 times in the past few years. They’ve got bigger things to worry about, and I doubt the original paperwork even still exists. I can’t say this is true of all gyms, but it worked fine for me and I’ve never had a problem.

You never know to what lengths a company will go to retrieve a supposed debt.

Last year, a friend of mine gave me a subscription to a magazine. I received, along with my first copy, a bill. I called and explained that it had been paid for. The second copy included a bill as well. This time I wrote, including the name of the friend and the check number and date she paid. The next thing I received from them was a threatening letter from a collection agency. I wrote the agency as well, but only received 2 or 3 identical letters in return. I’m sure that, in the end, they spent more than the $19 the subscription originally cost to harass me.

I would strongly suggest doing whatever you can (within reason) to resolve this situation, esp. if you plan on making any large purchases within the next several years that will require a credit check. If, because of your impending move, paying them a visit is really inconvenient, then do it by registered mail. Our bank didn’t seem too concerned over our debt to Family Fun when it came time to approve our recent mortgage, but an unpaid balance in the amount you describe might stand in your way.

Why the $400 bill all of a sudden? Aren’t they supposed to bill you monthly? Isn’t the abscence of a monthly bill between February and now a de facto acceptance of cancellation of membership? Unless they have evidence that they tried to bill you for each of the last few months, it seems to me that you should be the one suing them for fraud, as they have manufactured charges out of thin air.

you no pay…they refer to collection agency…you no pay…they report debt to credit bureaus…you apply for credit, you no get…you try to pay collection, they take money, tell credit bureaus you paid…credit bureaus update their files to show it as ‘paid collection’…you apply for credit, you no get…why? you ask, you paid it?!..because, this collection, even if paid, will remain on file for seven years from the time it went to collection…

Ah…that’s the way it should work. Pay your bills and understand the financial commitments you make, or suffer the consequences.

Failure to receive a ‘bill’, or ‘statement’ is more like it, is not a reason to stop paying. Try it and see how it works.

C’mon! This couple was irresponsible and this should not be turned around on anyone else. The law can apply commen sense reasoning.

There’s a site devoted to problems people have had with one particular nationwide gym. I don’t know if this is particularly relevant to your situation… but it’s interesting.

  • Rick

How are we ‘irresponsible’? I cancelled the membership; they claim I didn’t. A mix-up, for sure, but irresponsible? WTF?

I take it back! - I misread it. :eek:

If you did cancel it, then hold your ground. If a collection agency calls, explain that and ask they not contact you again and try to work with the company directly.

Let me make up my mistake to you:

My company (TransUnion) no longer accepts collection debts if reported in connection with a health club membership. I’m fairly certain that all big three credit bureaus do the same thing now as the industry got fed up with the inaccuracies.

Tell the gym to bite you - in so many words.

First of all, it is NEVER a good idea to ignore any debt. If you dispute a debt, it is best to send a certified letter (with the return receipt requested) to the company explaining why you don’t feel the money is owed.

I remember getting really bad service from a hospital ER. When they sent me their bill, I promptly sent a certified letter outlining the poor service and why I don’t think I should be responsible for the balance my insurance didn’t pay. (I was in pain with kidney stones and they weren’t attending to my pain – even telling me to “shut up”). Sure enough they completely backed down and forgave the debt in writing.

Even though a collection bureau may not be involved, they may take the collection matter to small claims court and try to collect the debt themselves. If you can produce a copy of your certified letter with appropriate receipts the Judge should be more receptive to your side of the story. Otherwise the Judge is going to ask you why you ignored all the letters they sent you trying to collect the debt.

Courts love certified letters. The true beauty is even if they refuse to accept or sign for the certified letter, you can take the sealed letter to court and substantiate your claim. If they do accept it, there is the Return Receipt Requested option that provides you with proof of delivery and who signed for the letter.

Commonly certified letters draw more attention from creditors because of these points. The $4 or so you spend for the certified postage is worth it if push comes to shove.

OK, thanks for everyone’s help, especially Philster’s. Mr. Athena is going to go talk to the gym today, and try to straighten things out. If they’re going to be difficult, our backup plan will be to get it in writing that we have cancelled our membership, then let them do what they may to collect the money they think we owe them. If they threaten lawsuits, we’ll deal with that at the time. However, if Philster’s right and they can’t do anything to our credit, they’re gonna have to work very hard to get this $400 from us, since I don’t think we owe it to them.

For what it’s worth, it’s a small, local gym, not affiliated with any nationwide gym.

Interestingly it has been suggested that because you cancelled by phone that there is “no record” of you having done so, and that you should have cancellled in writing. – That can’t be so, you can form a contract verbally, and verbally by phone, likewise you can mutually dissolve a contract – you made the phone call, they said yes, end of contract, end of story. Even if you had cancelled “in writing” they could still claim that they never received it (even if you handed it to them personally), so having written a cancellation would have afforded you no more “protection” unless you’d received from them a written notification.

When you did visit this gym, did you have to sign-in or “swipe-in”? Will they have data to see that you have not used the gym since your cancellation? If so I think speaking to them directly should resolve this, speak to them, and write to them.

If they insist on persuing this then exercise your democratic right to picket the gym, give out fliers describing your mistreatment, ask visitors to cancel their membership by way of protest, oh, and counter-sue.