The entire PSA grading process summarized: 1. Select PSA service level, 2. Ship your cards to PSA, 3. Receive your PSA-graded cards in the mail.
Updated Jul 25, 2023
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That jaw-dropping sale must've gotten you thinking: “If a beat-up card like that can sell for half a million, how much money can I get for my well-preserved trading card collection?”
Well, the most surefire way to figure out what your cards are worth is to get them graded. But as you’ll soon learn, PSA grading takes time and moolah. In this article, we’ll go over what PSA grading is and how it works. And to Topps it all off, I’ll introduce you to the most hassle-free and affordable card grading service on the market today.
So batter up.
Trading cards have evolved into a billion-dollar industry and are an excellent store of value. The problem with trading cards and other collectibles is that they're often faked or counterfeited, which makes them a riskier alternative asset to invest in.
Card grading services were developed to ensure the authenticity of sports cards and boost their value.
And while many card grading authenticators and grading systems exist, PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator) is the most reputable name in the business. PSA has verified more than 40 million sports cards cumulatively worth over $1 billion to earn this level of trust with collectors.
So, what do the different PSA grades mean anyway? There are 10 possible PSA grades, each of which signifies a different level of card condition:
Near Mint or Mint
Excellent or Mint
Very Good or Excellent
The PSA Photograde tool shows the visual differences between each PSA grade.
Source: PSA Photograde
The condition of a card (and its subsequent grade) is, in turn, based on four factors: the centering, corners, edges, and surface.
The higher the PSA grade, the more pristine a card’s condition is. Low-graded cards, on the other hand, may be off-centered or have frayed corners, rough edges, printing defects, or scratched surfaces.
This isn’t to say that only PSA 10s are worth buying and selling, though. Sure, modern cards are expected to have high grades because they were recently released. But low-graded vintage cards (issued 40+ years ago) can still trade hands for tens of thousands of dollars (or more).
Also worth mentioning is the role of popularity and scarcity in increasing the value of PSA-graded cards. A well-known card with a low population (small total supply) and a low percentage of cards in gem mint condition is likely to be extremely valuable. Take Mickey Mantle #311, for instance.
But the opposite also holds true—a lesser-known card with a high population and a high percentage of cards in gem mint condition isn’t likely to be very valuable.
Collectors looking to get their cards graded by the PSA have three options. High-value items can be dropped off at PSA’s Woodbridge, NJ office on a case-by-case basis.
Alternatively, collectors can submit their items to PSA at a trade show. And the final option for collectors is to fill out a submission form via PSA’s Online Submission Center and mail their items to PSA.
Let's explore the online submission option.
Once you’re done with the PSA submission form, you need to select a service level that varies in pricing and turnaround time. Your chosen service level should, in most cases, be determined by your declared value—your estimate of the value of your card collection.
To that end, PSA has a ton of helpful links and resources on its site, like the price guide, auction prices realized, and population report. You can even contact a dealer in your area for extra assistance valuing your cards.
Do keep in mind that your declared value is used for shipping insurance in the event of damage or loss. So if you lowball the declared value, your cards will have less protection.
Now in terms of pricing, PSA’s most basic service level costs $20 per card with a minimum submission of 20 cards worth up to $199 in declared value.
On the other hand, their most elite service costs $600 per card, worth up to $9,999 in declared value. What's more, the PSA grading process can take anywhere from a week to 150 days.
PSA services & pricing.
Once your card arrives at the PSA facility, a team of experts will closely inspect the cards and grade each item from 1 to 10. After that, PSA encases each card in a tamper-evident holder with a certification label that identifies the card's issue date, manufacturer, number, subject, and PSA grade.
The label also includes the PSA holographic logo, fugitive ink to prevent tampering, and a certificate number plus a QR code to confirm authenticity.
Diagram of a PSA grading certificate.
In some cases, your card could be returned as ungradable based on evidence of tampering (like trimming or recoloration) or lack of authenticity. And just so you know, you’d still be on the hook for the grading service charges.
PSA card grading is mostly worth it since card grading tends to boost protection and sports card prices. The added protection comes from being in a protective card holder, while increased resale value is due to savvy collectors viewing unsheathed cards as less worthy.
The numbers don’t lie. If you peruse any list of top-selling cards, you’ll see that most, if not all, are graded. But not every single card in your collection is worth grading. If your card isn't worth more than the grading service fee, you probably shouldn't have it graded.
PSA’s lowest service fee is $20 per card, with a minimum submission of 20 cards worth $199 or less. In other words, your card collection must be worth significantly more than $400 for PSA grading to be worth it. Lucky for you, there’s an easier and more affordable card grading alternative.
Trading card marketplace PWCC has partnered with professional sports authenticator Certified Collectibles Group (CCG) to create one of the market's simplest, fastest, and most affordable card grading services.
Unlike PSA’s tiered pricing system, PWCC card grading charges a flat $20 grading fee. And while PSA grades can take up to 150 days, PWCC has an estimated 10-day grading turnaround. And the icing on the cake? PWCC will also queue your cards for an upcoming Weekly Sunday Auction after they arrive.
To access the service, simply go to weekly Sunday auction and grading on the PWCC site and start a new submission. Next, ship your cards to PWCC in penny sleeves or semi-rigid cardholders. It's arguably one of the most hassle-free ways to grade and sell trading cards.
What if you're just starting out? A great platform for beginners to embark on their sports card collecting journey is Collectable. They're a marketplace where you can buy and sell fractional shares in sports cards and memorabilia. You simply buy shares and make money when Collectable sells the asset for a profit. Use Collectable to make some cash while you hone your sports card knowledge.
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