NEW YORK (MainStreet) — As if learning about your credit report wasn't already confusing enough, now there are two companies offering information: FICO and VantageScore. What are the difference between the two scores, both in terms of how they're tabulated and how they affect your ability to access credit? The answer might surprise you.

The Origins of Credit Scores

According to Anthony Sprauve, senior consumer credit specialist with FICO, the company began creating three-digit credit scores in 1989. However, prior to that, the company had been offering custom credit scores for various lenders, including everything from department stores to banks to used car dealers. Since then, the company has updated its algorithms eight times, with a ninth version of the FICO score just around the corner, according to Sprauve.

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Randy Padawer, a consumer advocate with LexingtonLaw points out that in the beginning, consumers didn't have access to their FICO score.

"You'd hear about it if you got rejected, but no one actually knew what it was," he says. "In reality, FICO sort of tripped into a bonanza," he says. "If they knew then how much people would pay to see their credit score, they probably would have started offering them years ago."

Enter VantageScore

VantageScore is a more recent entry onto the credit scoring scene. Bethy Hardeman, a consumer advocate with Credit Karma, explains that VantageScore was developed by the three major credit reporting bureaus with an eye toward making a better, more predictive and more consumer-friendly credit score. It is currently on its third version.

Padawer is somewhat more cynical about why VantageScore exists.

"Some credit companies got together and decided that they didn't want to pay FICO for their statistics when they could just make up their own," Padawer said.

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"FICO has done a really good job of convincing consumers that they have one and only one score," she says, yet you might actually have as many as 100 different scores.

"The score you see is not the score your lender sees," she explains. However, she's quick to add that there's about an 85% chance that your credit score is going to be in the same ballpark as what a lender sees.

What's more, Hardeman says that credit scores were never meant to be seen by consumers in the first place.

The Difference Between FICO and VantageScore

One big difference between the two scores is that, in addition to giving you a three-digit number, VantageScore also provides consumers with a letter grade. This can make digesting and understanding your credit score a lot easier for consumers who struggle to understand just what their three-digit number means.

Another big difference? VantageScore isn't as widely used as FICO. Seven out of the top banks, eight out of the ten top credit card companies, six out of the top ten auto lenders and five out of five of the top mortgage lenders use it; however, you have no way of knowing if those companies are pulling a VantageScore or a FICO, nor any method of determining from which credit agency they're pulling it.

"The reporting bureaus had really high hopes for VantageScore," says Padawer, "but to get institutions to adopt this new and untested scoring system, you have to offer something different."

VantageScore is currently cheaper to use than FICO, but because it's so new, Padawer believes that it's untested in the eyes of many institutions. He does, however, believe that it can be a useful tool for consumers evaluating their own credit history.

"Wide adoption of FICO guarantees regulatory compliance and unbiased analysis," says Sprauve, who adds that "there's this perception that people have no control over their FICO score, but your behavior really does impact your three-digit score."

There's a tried and true formula of personal finance behavior that works.

"Pay your bills on time, keep your credit card balances low and only open credit when you need it and you'll have a solid credit score," Sprauve said.

—Written by Nicholas Pell for MainStreet