After nearly six years of campaigning, consumer advocates are finally reaching a hard-earned reform of the payday loan industry.

State Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood) oversaw passage last month of a bill that would protect consumers by creating a regulated environment for the short-term loan lenders in Illinois.

Before the bill, the average finance charge for several payday loan stores surveyed in Oak Park and Forest Park was $48 per $100 borrowed?”nearly half of the loan principal itself.

However, once the bill passes the house and is signed, as it is expected to be, by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a maximum fee of $15.50 per $100 will be placed on every lender in Illinois.

“It’s been a long and arduous process,” said Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), co-sponsor of the bill. “I’m hopeful that in the end, we struck a balance, and we will protect the Illinois families that need to turn to short-term loans to get by.”

Some of the other consumer protections in the Payday Loan Reform Bill include a mandatory recovery period to allow consumers to more easily break out of the debt cycle created by back-to-back loans.

“I think the key element that makes this bill work is the repayment plan,” said Dr. Marva Williams of Woodstock Corporation, a long-time proponent of payday loan reform.

The bill will also implement a repayment plan that allows 56 days for customers with loans unpaid for more than 35 days to pay the loan without any additional fees or interest.

The Payday Loan Reform Bill, also known as House Bill 1100, is the result of years of work by legislators, consumer advocates and major payday lenders.

“I and other members of the General Assembly have worked hard on this bill to bring both sides together to reach a solid compromise that both sides could agree to,” said Lightford, according a press release.

Bob Vondrasek, executive director of South Austin Community Coalition Council, said that even though the bill installs consumer protections, the lending industry is still not the best option for consumers.

“It’s a very risky short-term loan,” he said. “I would still advise people against it.”

Lynda DelaForgue, co-director of Citizen Action Illinois, a major consumer advocacy group in Illinois, said that the bill is awaiting concurrence in the House of Representatives before going to the governor.

“We don’t anticipate there to be any more problems ahead,” she said.