Update: user K replied with what I think is the best insight so far:
Just happened to me today when I went to sign up after a year since I was a member. Noped right out of there. You’re right about the merchant fees but I suspect the real reason they are not billing with cards anymore is because of the high volume disputes they have. I used to work for a bank in the claims department and gym memberships and credit scores were our bread and butter. Visa and Mastercard have set rules in regards to merchant rights and would almost always return the funds back to the customer. An ACH transaction does not have the same protection and NACHA regulations does not cover product and services therefore if a customer disputed the transactions the likelihood of receiving the funds back is slim to none.(emphasis added by me)
I did join a different gym. I was ready to join Planet Fitness; I took the tour, a pleasant young man explained the membership plans, and they sent me a link to sign up at. The facility seemed good, and it was closer to my home than the one I did end up at. But their sign up process demanded that I hand them my checking account number and routing number. That’s a nope, and we’re done.
I even found the Contact Us part of their web site and sent them an email asking what other options were available. They never bothered to respond.
The gist of the problem is computer security; Planet Fitness internal IT security isn’t that good. Well, no-one’s internal security is all that good – just ask T-Mobile: their 2021 data breach was T-Mobile’s fifth incident in four years. Worse, when T-Mobile was asked about the potential for security problems, their answer was “What if this doesn’t happen because our security is amazingly good?“
I can’t help but think that Planet Fitness feels the same way.
Why can’t I have the membership fee charged to my credit card? When their IT infrastructure gets breached (not if), I can easily get a new credit card number from my credit card company – if Planet Fitness would allow me to use a credit card. I’ve actually had to do that before; I got a physical letter in 2016 letting me know of a breach with a particular company that I did business with every couple of months. Changing the credit card number was pretty easy. Slightly annoying, but if that was the worst thing to happen to me in 2016, I’m leading a pretty charmed life.
But what happens when Planet Fitness loses my checking account number (and routing number)?
That would be a disaster.
Sure, I could close the compromised account, and open a new one; but my paycheck gets deposited there. Everything funnels through there. I even had a need to get paper checks printed up a year ago, and that expense of the rest of the paper checks would go in the shredder. Is Planet Fitness going pay me to get new checks printed? If I sued for it, I’m pretty sure I’d win – unless their defense was “well, if you are stupid enough to give us your checking account number, then that’s on you.” Maybe that is the way they think about their customers. 🤷
It also bothers me that Planet Fitness is only being somewhat truthful about why they want to pull the money directly out of my checking account. From their web site:
The method in which members are able to pay for their monthly membership varies by location, but many Planet Fitness clubs accept payment through checking accounts only. We require an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) through checking accounts for your convenience: This allows us to be able to continue your membership without interruption or the hassle of updating your payment information if your credit cards are lost/stolen, invalid or expired.https://www.planetfitness.com/about-planet-fitness/customer-service/billing-faqs
I have a problem with “… for your convenience ….”
This is flat out falsehood. It’s not for my convenience, it’s for Planet Fitness’ convenience.
Also, Planet Fitness doesn’t have to pay the credit card company their commission. That’s the real reason they are willing to risk my security; they are being cheap. My security versus a tiny bit of extra profit? SELL ‘EM OUT BOYS!
It’s also important to note that there’s a major discrepancy in ACH vs. credit card fees. Broadly speaking, ACH transactions have the lowest costs associated with any payment system. On the other hand, credit cards typically charge 2.5% of the transaction value in fees, plus an additional processing fee. So, when it comes to ACH vs. credit card fees, ACH is the clear winner.https://gocardless.com/en-us/guides/posts/ach-vs-credit-cards/
So, I found a gym that lets me pay by credit card. It is farther away from my home. It doesn’t have as many locations. But it does let me subscribe with a credit card, and it doesn’t lie to me about why they prefer to have my checking account number. They did ask; but they were honest and said it was because they wanted to avoid having to pay the credit card merchant fees. If I was willing to pay more to cover that, they’d let me use a credit card for billing. Yes, I am, because I know that no company’s IT security is all that good. I’m paying now for for easier recovery later. That gives me peace of mind.
I offered Planet Fitness the whole year in Ca$h or check and they still refused.
They want me to agree to debit my bank account to make it very difficult for you to cancel.
Yes – it is ridiculous that they would refuse payment upfront for an entire year, just because they want to force their customers into this scheme.
Thanks for the info. I was at the point where I had put in my CC# and then saw that I couldn’t proceed without my checking account info… Hell no!!!
Not even for 10.00 per month
I agree: “Hell no!” Just because they want to skimp pennies doesn’t mean I should go along.
Yeah no way I’m going to give my bank info to a gym! Credit card yes of course. I just turned around and walked out of Danville IL planet fitness after the kid said I couldn’t join without giving my bank info.
Thank you Mark. I hope that more people follow your example. It is a terrible security practice for a 1% gain (or less).
Thank you for this in-depth article. I’m almost ready to join Planet Fitness.
I totally agree with what you said. Although they want to waive credit card fees, they should not take on our risk by giving them authorization to deposit money from our bank account.
I ended up going with a different gym. There are lots of gyms to pick from.
no way! today I went ready to join but same thing asking for Bank Acc, to me is just a Gym that’s all ! and with CC. could be good but sorry they lost me as customer as well 4 more guys that were with me.
Right – it is a super slim margin for their effort, and like with myself and you, they lost business over it.
I was all ready to sign up because they have a location near my house and I know I will go to the gym more often if it is convenient. Not if they won’t take a credit card or check though!
I understand the financial argument that it is less profitable to take credit cards because of merchant fees, but have these people ever been to a gas station? Hello – you pay more for credit card purchases. I would gladly pay 5% more to use a credit card and that would result in MORE profit for them. Go figure…
I know, right? If the difference is 1.5%, mark it up 1.5%. But don’t demand I hand over my checking account number!
I still have not gotten an answer as to why Planet Fitness needs/wants BOTH my Bank information & Credit Card information. One Employee said he “thinks” it’s because I can buy a water or energy drink and just have it put on my account which is the credit card. I bring my own water and I’ll pay cash the one time I ‘might’ forget my water in 3+ years…But WTF, if their system gets breached I’d lose both my bank & credit card data at the same time.
While a member, my credit card was compromised and false charges were being made (not the first time to happen). I do not know where this latest one happened, but my credit card company cancelled my credit card. I have yet to activate a new one they sent me, but I get asked for a credit card # every time I check in. They take my membership fee out of my checking account, so I don’t owe them anything, and that is sufficient (for me).
For some reason, I can update my bank information online, but I cannot update my credit card information online. So that means I’d have to hand someone my card – why??? I’m the type with the luck to get that one dishonest employee out of 1,000 who’d steal my info.
Every credit card I’ve ever had lasts about 5 years before the number is stolen or my credit card calls me about a data breach and has to cancel it (I’ve never lost a credit card). This is such a pain, but not as big a pain if my checking account gets compromised as ALL my utility bills get taken out my checking and I have direct deposit.
If my checking account ever gets compromised, I’d still have a credit card to use and vice-versa – but the way it is now, if Planet Fitness gets compromised, I lose BOTH at once.
For what it’s worth, privacy.com lets you define a different credit card number for every single vendor. This way, when a place does get compromised, the credit card number that is leaked is only the specific card number for that vendor. You’d need to open their app, generate a new number, and then hand it over to (whomever) – but that could help. It doesn’t work for just handing over the card at a restaurant, though.
My main complaint is about the ACH requirement by Planet Fitness so they can save 1% on fees. It is a miniscule savings for a large increase in exposure. This is customer hostile.
They also do it in order to hold y0ur funds hostage in case of a dispute. At another gym, when COVID hit, they were unable to remain open most of the time, so I tired to cancel and they wanted a cancellation fee. I told them I am not cancelling out of my own accord, but they are no longer able to honor the terms of our agreement and remain open during the times for which I’m paying to access the club. They cancelled my membership and tried to bill my credit card a cancellation fee, but I had my credit card company block that merchant’s further charges beforehand, so it didn’t go through, and they then sent me an invoice for the cancellation fee that I assume is in some landfill at this juncture. I still have my money and I never heard from them again. They would have stolen it had they had my checking account information.
This is an excellent point! Thank you!