The Center for Financial Services Innovation calls credit history “a critical passport in the U.S. economy,” but notes that more than 50 million people have a thin or nonexistent credit file. A secured credit card may be able help you learn how to use credit cards to complement your financial life, while establishing your credit score and history.

But, with so many secured credit card options, how do you choose the right one?

Consider these five steps to help you simplify your search for a secured credit card, so you can find the one that best suits your specific objectives and needs.

1. Identify Which Features Are Important to You

Credit line amounts, annual fees, interest rates, late fees and the ability to earn credit card rewards all vary from one secured credit card to the next. Take advantage of online reviews and articles from unbiased sources to help guide your search. As you start to learn what features secured credit cards offer, make a list to prioritize which are the most important to you.

If you want to earn rewards while you build credit, for example, an analysis of 228 secured credit cards conducted by CreditCards.com recommended the Discover it® Secured credit card as the top pick.

2. A Secured Credit Card Should Help Build Your Credit

“I always recommend getting a secured credit card that reports to one or more of the three major credit bureaus as the first and most important step in establishing credit,” says RJ Mansfield, a consumer rights activist, credit restoration expert and author of the book Debt Assassin.

“The secured card creditors will usually indicate they report [to the major credit bureaus] in the ad or on their website,” says Mansfield. In addition, Mansfield stresses that how you use the card is as important as whether your credit activity is reported. “A secured card should be used exclusively for paying for items you would normally pay for in cash, and paid for as soon as the item shows up on your account. You are looking to establish credit, not go into debt,” says Mansfield.

3. Clarify When You May Be Eligible to Move to an Unsecured Credit Card

Secured credit cards can be an important step to building credit but, eventually, you may want to “graduate” to an unsecured credit card for a higher credit limit, and/or more robust rewards and benefits programs. Secured credit card issuers typically require cardholders to demonstrate consistent payment history and the ability to manage how much of the credit line they use for several months before they can move to an unsecured card — but not all have the same criteria or timeline for that process.

Mansfield recommends calling the card issuers whose secured cards you are considering and asking about how long it would be before you are considered for an upgrade to an unsecured card. He also suggests using the card to pay for necessities like food or gas, and paying the bill in full on or before the payment due date. Mansfield was given his first unsecured $1,000 credit line with this approach, after using a secured credit card for five months. “Again, the purpose of a secured card is to establish credit, not go into debt,” says Mansfield.

4. Determine How Much Money You Want to Deposit to Secure the Credit Line

Creditcards.com‘s secured credit cards analysis revealed that $200 is a commonly required minimum deposit to secure a credit line. Assuming you pay your bills and use the card as agreed, your deposit typically will be returned to you if you move to an unsecured credit card, or close the secured credit card account, according to NerdWallet.

Determine how much of a deposit you’re willing and able to make to secure the credit line. Consider establishing automatic transfers from each paycheck to a savings account until you’ve hit your savings goal. Depositing a greater sum of money may result in a higher credit limit on your secured credit card with some issuers, while others do limit the credit line amount they’re willing to issue.

However, Mansfield says that a low deposit amount (and a subsequently low credit limit) doesn’t have to stand in the way of your ability to build credit with a secured credit card. “More than the amount of the credit limit on the secured card, [creditors] don’t want to see you carrying a balance from month to month,” says Mansfield.

5. Apply for the Card That Works for You

Once you’ve saved the money you need to secure the credit line, apply for the secured credit card you believe fits your situation. Ideally, you’ll be approved for a secured credit card that has low (or no) fees, offers a clear process for how to move into an unsecured credit card once you’ve proven responsible use and gives you other benefits such as rewards, reliable customer service and mobile and online account tools.

By doing a bit of homework up front, you’ll be better able to apply for — and obtain — the secured credit card that will best meet your needs and can help you develop both a thicker credit file and sound financial habits.

Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.