As discussed in more detail in this post about Chapter 13 Basics and this post about Chapter 13 Plans, and Chapter 13 payments, the basic goal of Chapter 13 is to pay back some or all of your debts over a period of time. Usually, the payment period lasts from three to five years. An important question is exactly when these payments begin, since people generally file for Bankruptcy at a time when they are experiencing some difficulties in paying some of their monthly bills. The answer is different in every case, and it is extremely important to review this with your lawyer. Keep in mind your Chapter 13 plan will be tailored specifically for you, with payments you can afford.
Generally, if you are keeping your house or car you will probably make the next regular payments due after the case is filed. If you have missed payments on these secured debts, they will be made up in your plan payments. If you believe you will have problems making the regular post-petition payments it is important to let your lawyer know. A few days late the first month usually will not be a major issue, but you do need to get on track and maintain payments beyond that. The other payments you need to make are the plan payments to the Chapter 13 Trustee. These are the payments that go to pay some portion of your unsecured debts, and are based on your “disposable income.” These payments will usually begin about a month after your case is filed, even if your Chapter 13 Plan is not yet confirmed (and it will not be confirmed that quickly). This allows you to get off on a good start in your case, so that your plan payments end on time. If this sounds like you are not getting much breathing room, remember all the bills you are no longer paying every month — credit cards, medical bills, loans, past due home and car payments and so on — and remember that these payments are tailored to your income and budget.
Chapter 13 is definitely a lean budget for a few years. There is no getting around that. However, it is also an opportunity for many people to get back on their feet, keep their homes and a vehicle or two, and take care of themselves and their families. The best, and really only, way to find out if it will work for you is to see a good lawyer in your area to review your finances in detail to see if it (or Chapter 7) is right for you.