Almost half of Las Vegas residents— many of whom bore the brunt of the housing bust that sparked the recession— have debt in collections. Other Southern cities have a disproportionate number of their people facing debt collectors, including Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; and Jackson, Mississippi.
A few major factors appear to be driving the delinquencies, said Eric Salazar, the Texas and Florida manager for the credit counseling agency GreenPath.
First, many of these workers have low-paying jobs in construction and services, in addition to minimal education on their finances.
"There is not the income growth to save and they have to make survival decisions," Salazar said. "You make the decision to pay for the roof over your head and to feed your family and that's all you can afford to do."
Secondly, these states are home to retirees who live on fixed incomes and may struggle to pay medical bills, Salazar said.
Other cities have populations that have largely managed to repay their bills on time. Just 20.1 percent of Minneapolis residents have debts in collection. Boston, Honolulu and San Jose, California, are similarly low.
Only about 20 percent of Americans with credit records have no debt at all. Yet high debt levels don't always lead to more delinquencies, since the debt largely comes from mortgages.
An average San Jose resident has $97,150 in total debt, with 84 percent of it tied to a mortgage. But because incomes and real estate values are higher in the technology hub, those residents are less likely to be delinquent.
By contrast, the average person in the Texas city of McAllen has only $23,546 in debt, yet more than half of the population has debt in collections, more than anywhere else in the United States.
The Urban Institute's Ratcliffe said that stagnant incomes are key to why some parts of the country are struggling to repay their debt.
Wages have barely kept up with inflation during the five-year recovery, according to Labor Department figures. And a separate measure by Wells Fargo found that after-tax income fell for the bottom 20 percent of earners during the same period.