PhotoHere’s a piece of advice which you hopefully know already, though it still needs to be said: never, ever sign a contract without reading it first. Even if the salesman verbally assures you “This contract says A, B and C,” you still must read before you sign to ensure it doesn’t actually say X, Y and Z. 

Granted, when we say “Don’t sign a contract unless you read it,” you might counter: “Have you actually seen those contracts? Too long! Too much fine print! Too much legalese—you can’t even understand it without a law degree.” Okay—but if that’s the case, why in the world would you make the default assumption, “Although I don’t know what this says, I’m sure it’s in my best interest”?

This rule applies to any company you can name, but for today we’ll make an example of Gold’s Gym because, over the past couple of weeks, we’ve heard from several disgruntled customers whose complaints boiled down to “The salesman promised one thing but the contract said something else.”

Consider Mark S. of Richmond, Va., who wrote us on Sept. 30 to say “When I first spoke with the gym person that was filling out the agreement, he assured me that I could cancel it at any time.” This cancellation clause was important to Mark because he bought the membership as a gift for his wife, but he wasn’t certain she would actually use it.

Sure enough: “She never once set foot on the gym so later on, when I tried to cancel, they threw the contract at me, saying that [the salesman’s promise] was non-binding and [they] would not even discuss” it.

Another Virginian, Jenny Z. of Arlington, told us a similar story on Oct. 16. She warns everybody: “DO NOT SIGN UP ANY CONTRACT WITH THEM if there is any little chance you will relocate to another place …. When I signed the contract, they told me that the airline ticket could be a proof for international relocation. But now, after struggling for several months, they still charge me money even after they know [I am] not here anymore, [in] direct contrast with their promise.”

Unfortunately for Jenny, that was only a verbal promise, which directly contradicts the actual written contract she signed -- and, of course, can't be proven.

Gold's Gym Oct. 17, 2013, 5:46 p.m.
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And when Matt C. of Tustin, Calif. wrote us on Oct. 11, he said, “As many others have noted here, Gold's Gym’s customer service and other employees are clearly not afraid to flat-out lie regarding the details of the paperwork you sign when you sign up with Gold's Gym. My wife signed up for Gold's Gym … We found a great rate and they promised us it was a monthly rate with no commitment.”

But, of course, that turned out not to be the case: “After several headaches with various assistant managers …. we finally decided to cancel our membership, only to discover that we were actually bound by a two-year contract. *NEVER* did anyone mention we were signing up for a two-year contract, not a single time. We've tried to resolve this over the phone, but every employee dodges the issue and says we must handle this in person; there are no cancellations over the phone. Okay, fine. We go in-person to attempt to cancel and every single time, the General Manager is not in today, so they're unable to address our issue ….”

Maybe the salesmen deliberately lied, or maybe they all made the same honest mistakes. From the customers’ point of view it doesn’t matter; what matters is what’s actually written in the contract they signed.

What to do

And finally, this word of advice from one of the attorneys who is always hovering around us: Whenever you sign a contract, be sure to keep a copy of it. You would be amazed how many people don't do this.

Why do you need a copy? Well, the most basic reason is so you know what you agreed to. But on a more practical level, the contract will tell you how to cancel it. 

Yes, that's right. Every contract contains the seeds of its own cancellation. A contract provides the legal names of the parties, the address at which they can be contacted and the means by which the agreement can be canceled or modified. If you follow these steps exactly, you will nearly always be successful.

Companies are entirely within the law when they ignore cancellations or modifications that do not abide by the steps outlined in the contact. If the contract says cancellations must be in writing and mailed to a specific address, then -- guess what? -- that's the only way to do it.

Simple as that. 

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