If your New Year’s resolution fails, quitting a gym in NJ may become a lot easier

There’s good news for New Jerseyans who plan on joining gyms this week— once the enthusiasm that comes with New Year’s resolutions wears off, it could be easier to cancel your membership.

A bill passed unanimously by the state Legislature last month and awaiting Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature would require Jersey gyms to give fitness buffs the opportunity to begin the process of canceling their memberships online, if they signed up online.

The legislation would also require gyms to notify members if their contracts are set to automatically renew and give them the option to cancel before that happens.

State. Sen. Gordon Johnson, a Democrat from Englewood, said the bill’s genesis occurred after one of his colleagues in the Assembly, Deputy Speaker Paul Moriarty of Turnersville, told him he was having trouble canceling his gym membership.

“So he had come to me and said, ‘Listen, Gordon, I think we need a bill to clarify or to make it easier for our consumers to get out of gym memberships,’” Johnson, who sponsors the bill, said.

Johnson described the legislation as a consumer protection bill.

“Some of these gyms are actually taking advantage of folks to sign up because they’re making it more difficult to get out of a contract. You have to go there in person or you have to write a certified letter,” he said.

The process for canceling a membership at fitness clubs operating in the Garden State varies.

For example, Planet Fitness says it allows members to cancel in person or by sending written notifications by mail, though it says some members may also be able to cancel their memberships online. According to the chain’s website, to stop the billing of a monthly membership, a written cancellation notification must be mailed or delivered in person seven days prior to the membership’s renewal date. Planet Fitness also says a $58 buyout fee is required if a membership is canceled prior to the end of a contract.

Retro Fitness, another gym chain that operates in New Jersey, says members must deliver a signed letter to their gym’s owner or manager to cancel. If they can’t come in person, a member must send the letter by certified mail.

The move by New Jersey comes as the Federal Trade Commission is weighing a new federal “click to cancel” that would make it easier for consumers to cancel subscriptions and recurring memberships. In a draft released in May, the FTC called for a rule that companies “make it as easy to cancel a subscription as it is to sign up for one.” For instance, the rule would require a seller to make it possible for a person who signed up online to be able to also cancel online. Or if the person signed up in-person, a gym would be required to allow them to cancel by phone or online.

The FTC is planning to hold a hearing on its proposal on Jan. 16, 2024.

The New Jersey bill would not change the rules for most in-person sign-ups, but Johnson said there are exceptions — such as allowing anyone to cancel their membership if they get transferred to a new job 25 or more miles away from where they lived when they initially signed up. In this case, a health club may ask for proof of a new permanent residence.

Mike Goscinski, vice president of government affairs at the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, said the bill heading to Murphy’s desk is “workable” for the gyms and health centers.

Johnson said that lawmakers made several changes while negotiating with the gym industry, including allowing gyms to move the cancel button from their homepages to different spots on their website. Lawmakers also agreed to change wording in the law so it didn’t refer to the ability to “cancel” a membership immediately, but to “initiate termination” online.

“So the ability for there to be a button that immediately cancels the membership is virtually impossible to exist,” Goscinski said.

In practice, he said, that means when a member initiates termination, it will signal the fitness facility to process the termination through a third party.

“It’s all about negotiation,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to really kill or damage or hurt the industry.”

Goscinski said gyms were happy with changes that were made during the legislative process. He said that New Jersey came up with a “business tenable solution” to the cancellation problem.

He said that his organization provided comments to the FTC recommending it look at the New Jersey bill as a model while it continues to work on the federal “click to cancel” rule.

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