For the most part, the old adage is true: You can’t get something for nothing. But for the month of February, Weiss Ratings is offering free access to its safety and investment ratings at . Weiss issues safety ratings on more than 15,000 financial institutions (including brokerage firms, insurance companies, and banks), 11,000 mutual funds, and 7,000 stocks. These ratings are typically only available by purchasing its reports, which may cost anywhere from $8 to $45 per report.

“We’re calling it Free February, and you can go right on to our Web site and get ratings for free all month long on any one of these companies,” says Weiss financial analyst Tim Schierer. “It’s kind of like a free trial, so that you get a flavor for what we offer.”

Weiss differs from other ratings agencies in that the companies it rates do not pay Weiss for the service. In addition, rated companies do not have the option to suppress their ratings if they don’t like the grade they receive. “Being able to suppress a rating is like going to Consumer Reports with a certain make of a car, having them run it through the tests, and if it gets a bad grade, being able to say, ‘Okay, well, just don’t put us on the list,’” says Schierer. “We don’t do that.”

Another plus of the ratings system is that its grades are very clear. Instead of ratings scales that include such oddities as a Baa1 (Moody’s), BBB- (S&P), and C++ (A.M. Best), Weiss’ ratings scale is just like a teacher’s: A, B, C, D, E. And there’s no grade inflation, either, claims the company. According to a Government Accounting Office chart provided by Weiss, the company’s ratings distributions fall along a bell curve, with only 3.6% of companies receiving A ratings and 38.1% receiving C grades. By comparison, A.M. Best gave its top rating (A++ or A+) to 27.5% of companies, and only 18.1% received its average (B++ or B+) rating.

Assistant Managing Editor Karen Hansen Weese can be reached at khansen@ia-mag.com.