Card Grading 101: PSA vs. Beckett vs. SGC

If you love sports and collectibles, card grading has likely delighted or infuriated you at some point:

After all, grading can make or break a card’s value. And it’s just as easy to over-spend on a graded card as it is playing roulette on ungraded alleged bargains.

Without any doubt, understanding how third-party companies grade sports cards is an invaluable resource, not just for new collectors, but also for veterans.

Here’s a complete guide to understanding card grading (using baseball cards as the example):

Baseball Card Grading

Card Grading
(Photo: merqarymagazine.com)

Typically, the grading system for cards are as follows, from top quality to the worst:

  • Gem Mint
  • Mint
  • Near Mint to Mint
  • Near Mint
  • Excellent-Mint
  • Excellent
  • Very Good
  • Good
  • Fair
  • Poor

This rating system is standardized across the grading industry.

However, third-party grading companies have their own guidelines… So a Mint graded card from one third-party company doesn’t mean it has been held to the exact same standards as it would be at another third-party company.

And here’s our first top tip: The age of the cards does not make any difference to the grading of that card…

Condition is the condition, whether 70-years-old or one.

CHECK OUT: 5 Most Valuable Baseball Cards, including Trout & Pujols.

Third-Party Card Grading Companies

Most commonly, collectors turn to popular third-party grading companies to get a grading for their cards.

Here are all the major companies that are involved in card grading that you should know about if you are a card collector.

Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA)

Founded in 1991, the PSA Grading Company is headquartered in Santa Ana, California. The actual name of the company is Professional Sports Authenticator, and it is one of the most popular and well-established brands in the world of card grading.

According to the company’s website, PSA has processed over 30 million cards and collectibles with a cumulative declared value going well over a billion dollars:

And more importantly, the PSA grading scale is widely respected and followed.

Top Tip: Cards graded by the PSA tend to carry a higher price in the resale market as compared to other grading companies.

The PSA grading scale grades cards on a ten-point scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being in Gem Mint (best) condition.

Here is the PSA grading scale that is most commonly used by most collectors:

  • PSA 10: Gem Mint
  • PSA 9: Mint
  • PSA 8: Near Mint to Mint
  • PSA 7: Near Mint
  • PSA 6: Excellent to Near Mint
  • PSA 5: Excellent
  • PSA 4: Very Good to Excellent
  • PSA 3: Very Good
  • PSA 2: Good
  • PSA 1.5: Fair
  • PSA 1: Poor

Additionally, PSA covers the following services:

  • Modern and vintage card grading
  • Autograph authentication
  • Original photograph authentication
  • Unopened pack grading
  • Ticket grading
  • Sports memorabilia authentication

Sportscard Guaranty Company (SGC)

SGC is also a popular sports card grading company.

Top Tip: The SGC grading system is more popular with vintage collectors who prefer the black inserts that are used in the SGC cardholders.

In recent times, SGC has moved onto a new grading system and now uses the same numeric grading system as PSA (previously they used a 0 to 100 grading system).

Beckett’s Grading Services (BGS, BCCG, and BVG)

Found in the year 1999, Beckett Grading is one of the best and most famous grading companies in the world. The company is headquartered in Yorba Linda, California:

Beckett Grading Services is a name to reckon with in the trading card industry. Beckett is known for offering high-quality sports card grading services for both modern and vintage cards.

The Beckett card grading system has three different grading subsidiaries:

  • The Beckett Grading Services (BGS) that grades cards from 1981 to the present-day
  • Beckett Vintage Grading (BVG) that grades cards from before 1981
  • Beckett Collectors Club Grading (BCCG) that is the lower tier grading level.

If you want to compare PSA vs. BGS, the important thing to keep in mind is that BGS also uses a 1-10 grading score, but does so across different sub-grades:

  • Centering
  • Edges
  • Corners
  • Surface

Then a black box algorithm is used to take the sub-grade scores and calculate an overall 1-10 grade. A 1 is classed as Poor, and 10 is Pristine. Additionally, grades can go up by .5, for example, 8.5.

Beckett provides services like modern and vintage card grading, comic book grading, and authentication of cards and comic books.

CHECK OUT: 5 Most Valuable NFL Cards From The 1990s.

How much does it cost to get a card graded?

The prices for sports card grading depend on various factors, including the card value, type of card being graded, and the desired turnaround time.

If you have never submitted a card for grading before, the pricing can become very confusing, very fast.

Let us take a look at the grading prices of PSA, SGC, and Beckett.

PSA Prices

The prices of card grading at PSA range from $20 to $5000 per card, depending on the service level:

  • The value service begins at $20 per card
  • Economy service starts at $50 per card
  • Regular service starts at $100 per card
  • The express service starts at $150 per card
  • Then there is the super express service, which is $300 per card
  • And finally, the walk-through service costs $600 per card – that’s if the card has a max value of $9,999. This service costs more as the cards final value goes up.

The cheapest card grading service from PSA, known as the value service, has a card cap value of $499. And the turnaround time for this category is 50 days.

SGC Prices

SGC’s card grading services are slightly cheaper than PSA and begin at $10 for cards that are worth less than $250.

They also have higher-priced submissions that are based on the declared card value and turnaround time.

Their Express service is priced at $15 with 15 business days as a turnaround time. The Priority service is priced at $35 with five day turnaround time, and the Next Day service is priced at $85 with two days turnaround time.

They also have the Same Day card grading service that costs $250. SGC also provides super premium service for cards that are worth over $100,000 with a base charge of $3,750.

Beckett Prices

Beckett grading prices range from $20 to $250, with options called Economy, Standard, Express, and Premium:

The pricing is less confusing than PSA and SGC, at least on the surface, with different aged cards getting different grading services.

Top Tip: Card prices are set by the seller, not the actual value. So always check the PSA, SGC, or Beckett website.

Conclusion

Despite only talking about PSA, BGS, and SGC above, we’ve compiled our top-5 grading services below:

1. Beckett Grading

The Beckett ‘Black Label’ commands extremely high prices in the trading card market. For example, the 2003 Topps Chrome LeBron James BGS 10 RC sold for around $89,000 in December 2020. Some of the pros and cons of Beckett Grading include:

Pros:

  • It is an established brand that has built a solid reputation.
  • It comes with an internal sleeve inside a plastic case.
  • The Beckett Gaming Service -10-Pristine cards capture the highest value in the market.

Cons:

  • The vintage card catalog of Beckett is not as comprehensive as others.
  • They have a delayed turnaround times.
  • BGS 10-Pristine is extremely rare.

Beckett provides services like modern and vintage card grading, comic book grading, and authentication of cards and comic books.

2. GMA Grading

GMA Grading was founded in 2000 and is headquartered in Odessa, Florida:

GMA Grading Services is an up-and-coming grading service, and the value proposition offered by them says that they charge only $8 per card for both sports and non-sports cards.

GMA Grading offers many lower-priced grading services. This is because they do not have the same brand recognition as BGS and PSA. The prices for grading the cards at GMA ranges from $6 to $20, depending on service level and order size.

The company’s grading scale ranges from 1 (Fair) to 10 (Gem or Mint), including 0.5 scores as well. The turnaround time for card grading varies from card to card, though it is also delayed as of February 2021.

GMA Grading only provides grading services. Here are some of the pros and cons of the company:

Pros:

  • Turnaround times for their basic service are faster than most other companies.
  • It offers the lowest price among the other service provider.

Cons:

  • Its brand recognition is lower than its other competitors.
  • The GMA-10-Gem-Mint cards are valued at a lesser price as compared to the ones graded by BGS, PSA, and SGA.

3. PSA Grading

Investors and collectors from all over the world regularly pay hefty premiums for PSA 10-Gem-Mint cards when compared to the Gem-Mint graded cards from the other grading companies:

Due to this, PSA grading is regarded as one of the best in the world, and it is in high demand. However, this has had an impact on PSA’s turnaround time significantly in recent history

Here are some of the pros and cons of the PSA grading service:

Pros

  • PSA 10-Gem-Mint graded cards are valued above all other Gem-Mint grades given by other companies in the market.
  • It has an extensive modern and vintage card catalog.
  • The company has a well-established brand and reputation.

Cons

  • As of May 2021, PSA suspended its grading services.
  • There is no half-point grade available between 9 and 10. (there is no 9.5)

4. HGA Grading

Founded recently in 2021, HGA Grading is one of the newest entries to the world of card grading. The company’s headquartered in Seymour, Tennessee.

HGA stands for Hybrid Grading Approach (HGA) and it aims to revolutionize the industry by implementing software that lets them scan, analyze, and grade cards without subjectivity.

Prices of HGA grading services begin from $20 per card to $55 per card, depending on the order size and service level.

Like others, the company’s grading scale ranges from 1 to 10, though there is limited information available on this as of now. The turnaround time also varies.

Pros and cons of HGA Gaming include:

Pros:

  • Technology enabled grading system to remove any subjectivity and improve consistency.
  • Pricing based on turnaround time instead of card value.

Cons:

  • New and unproven technology.
  • No comprehensive card catalog in place.
  • HGA 10-Gem-Mint value remains unknown in the market of of now.

5. ISA Grading

Founded in 2010 in New Hudson, Michigan, the International Sports Authentication (ISA) Grading Service is another up-and-coming grading service in the card grading market.

The company was started in order to provide card collectors with another grading option available to them outside of the main three that existed at that time (BGS, PSA, and SGC)

Prices of ISA card grading begin from $10 per card and go up to $25 per card depending on the size of order and service level. The grading scale ranges from 1 (Poor) to 10 (Gem-Mint) condition and they also have 0.5 scores.

Pros and cons of the company include:

Pros

  • Turnaround times are less impacted in 2021.
  • They have lower prices as compared to their competitors.

Cons

  • Brand recognition is lower than other competitors.
  • ISA 10-Gem-Mint grades are likely to capture lower values than competitors.

CHECK OUT: 5 Valuable Michael Jordan Cards That Prove He Is the GOAT.