Trading card games may have been a novelty in the early 1990s, but ever since the success of Magic: The Gathering (MTG), millions of dollars have since flowed into collectible cards. MTG, Pokémon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! have been the franchises that have stood the test of time, but others like Flesh and Blood, MetaZoo, and Weiß Schwarz have carved out their own market share.
As the oldest cards in successful trading cards age beyond a certain point, it becomes increasingly difficult to find copies in mint condition (especially from the era before the common use of card sleeves), and desirable cards rise in price accordingly.
So what is a mint condition card, exactly? Lots of marketplaces have condition guides many players and collectors use as baselines, but there is notable variance from company to company as to what passes for mint. This has created an increasing need over time for an absolute authority on the subject as more money is spent on trading card games.
And that’s where grading companies like BGS, CGC, and PSA enter the picture. These are the 3 companies you turn to for an absolute answer regarding a trading card’s condition, and while each brings its own grading criteria to the table, when a card is in one of their sealed slabs, you know EXACTLY what condition it is in.
Why Grade Cards?
There are 3 very common reasons to grade a trading card:
- To ascertain and preserve its exact condition
- To verify its authenticity
- To preserve or increase its value
I’ve already touched on the first reason you would send a card off to get graded, but sending in a card, particularly if you just pulled it from a booster pack, is a great way to ensure your unplayed card continues to remain pack fresh for years to come.
This is achieved by sealing your card in a slab that doesn’t allow the card to move or be easily affected by external factors. You’ll still want to store your graded cards away from sunlight and humidity, as no case is foolproof against these factors, but shuffle wear, binder dings, and fingerprints won’t ever be a concern so long as your graded card stays sealed.
The second common reason to grade a card is to verify its authenticity. As cards become more valuable, so too has counterfeiting them, and some fakes are very difficult to distinguish from original cards.
If you don’t have a jeweler’s loupe or are unfamiliar with the look and feel of authentic older cards, grading a valuable card, even if it is in poor condition, can save you a lot of headaches should you decide to sell or trade it. I would also go so far as to say this is the only reason you should send an obviously played or damaged card in for grading.
This is because damaged cards are simply worth far less than their mint or near-mint counterparts. Sure, a heavily played Beta Black Lotus is still a 4 or 5-figure card, but an unplayed one usually holds at least a 30-40% premium over the heavily played one.
A valuable card that has been graded to be in good condition by BGS, CGC, or PSA often carries an even higher premium beyond an ungraded counterpart due to its guaranteed authenticity and grading from a trusted authority. The better the condition (especially with a 9, 9.5, or 10), the better the premium.
While this is a relatively extreme example, it applies in some degree to any card worth at least a few hundred dollars, and can even come into play with particularly rare cards flirting with low 3-figure values, especially if their value is projected to increase.
So now that you know why you should grade cards, it’s time to see how much this privilege is going to set you back. I’m going to look at BGS, CGC, and PSA’s price structures separately, outlining any particularly noteworthy details about their grading options or criteria in addition to price so you can see which (if any) is right for your collection.
How Much Does BGS Grading Cost?
I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I’ve thought about Beckett in any significant capacity. Those who were playing trading card games (TCGs) in the 90s and 2000s probably remember seeing their price guides in Wal-Marts or Targets, and while those publications have faded from store shelves, Beckett Grading Service (BGS) is not only alive, but quite relevant to the TCG industry.
Here are the current prices to grade cards with BGS (the higher price per tier includes card subgrades, all turnaround times are estimates):
- Economy ($20 or $25 per card): Turnaround time of 25-45 business days
- Standard ($30 or $40 per card): Turnaround time of 10-20 business days
- Express ($75 or $100 per card): Turnaround time of 5-10 business days
- Premium ($150 or $200 per card): Turnaround time of 2-5 business days
You can find the BGS grading scale here. Add an extra $3 if regrading a card from BGS or another company. Reholder services are reportedly available for $5, though the website doesn’t list them, and you’ll have to manually note that you want your card reslabbed on BGS’s submission form. Shipping instructions are available here.
This looks like pretty straightforward pricing for grading trading cards; if you want your card turned around more quickly, you can pay more to have that happen. You’ll also have your card added to their population report at no charge so you can see how many cards like yours BGS has graded worldwide or look up a specific graded card whenever you wish.
I also strongly recommend paying the extra for card subgrades in addition to the card’s overall grade – you get a better sense for why your card was graded a specific way via its grades for centering, corners, edges, and surface, and if you decide to sell it later on, that extra information can also be available for the prospective buyer.
The grade of your card also dictates the color of the label you receive – cards with 10s in all subgrades receives a coveted black label, cards with an overall grade of 9.5 or 10 receive a gold label, cards with an overall grade of 8.5 or 9 receive a silver label, and all other graded cards receive a white label. Very easy to distinguish at a glance, and a nice way to show off mint and near-mint cards.
Regrettably, there’s a lot more to working with BGS than they let on up front. You only find out the true cost of grading with them as you go through the process of signing up, and you’ll get nickeled and dimed every single step of the way.
First, if your card is signed, there’s an additional surcharge for verifying signature authenticity. This charge is $5 for cards designed as autograph cards, or can be anywhere from $20-$150 for post-production signatures depending upon the value assigned to the most prominent artist’s signature on the card and how many signatures are present on the card.
Fortunately, BGS has a helpful chart and search tool for identifying the value of signatures, but this really needs to be more prominently featured on their pricing page, as it’s currently buried within an entirely separate web address.
If you elect to grade an oversized card larger than 3” x 5″, there is a further $8 charge. This usually won’t come up, as most trading cards are much smaller than this, and even oversized cards like those that came in older MTG Commander decks top out at 3″ x 5″ in size.
Next, you’ll be charged to insure your order. There is a minimum $14 charge for this, plus an additional $14 for every $1,000 in declared value for your card(s). While a good investment to provide an extra layer of protection for valuable cards, this is a good reason to not send in a single low 3-figure card. Wait to build up around $1K in cards to send in so you can save money here.
Finally, you’ll also need to pay for shipping. Costs for that start out at $25 in the US and $55 outside it, and they can go up to $125+ domestically or $175+ abroad depending upon the shipping method you choose and how many cards need to be shipped.
In short, this means that at absolute minimum you’re paying an extra $39 or $69 for your order in addition to the cost of your grading tier (more if you’re shipping multiple cards or expensive ones), and as much as another $150 on top of that if your card is signed by a prominent artist or community figure.
How Much Does CGC Grading Cost?
In the buying, selling, and trading circles I frequent, Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) tends to hold the highest respect from collectors when it comes to grading due to how meticulous they are with their analysis, even compared to BGS and PSA.
My favorite example of this is that CGC is the only grading company who directly distinguishes between Pristine and Perfect grades on cards within their grading scale (though BGS does do this by using gold labels for 10s and black labels for perfect 10s), and they also are very clear about how much magnification they use to analyze cards for potential defects (10x).
With such prevalent attention to detail from start to finish, it’s no wonder they’re the grading company of choice for many collectors.
- Associate ($25): Comes with a $15 voucher for a $20 shipping kit, plus 10% off at the CCG store
- Premium ($149): Comes with a $20 voucher for a $20 shipping kit, 10% off at the CCG store, plus $150 CGC grading credit (applied automatically when sending cards in for grading)
- Elite ($299): Comes with a $20 voucher for a $20 shipping kit, 10% off at the CCG store, $150 CGC grading credit (applied automatically when sending cards in for grading), plus 10% off CGC grading tiers (excludes shipping, handling, and services fees)
Ordinarily, I’d complain about having to shell out for the privilege of paying for CGC’s grading, but you do get most, if not all your money back in shipping materials and grading credit, and if you have to grade a lot of cards, the Elite tier can easily be worth far more than the $300 a year by itself with sufficient volume.
Once you are a CGC member, here are the current prices to grade cards with CGC (the higher price per tier includes card subgrades, all turnaround times are estimates. Add 5 days to turnaround if adding subgrades):
- Bulk ($15 or $30 per card): Cards may be a mix of different types or games, max value per card $250, 25 card minimum, turnaround time of 30 business days
- Economy ($25 or $40 per card): Max value per card $500, turnaround time of 20 business days
- Standard ($35 or $50 per card): Max value per card $1,000, turnaround time of 10 business days
- Express ($70 or $85 per card): Max value per card $10,000, turnaround time of 5 business days
- Walkthrough ($150 or $165 per card): Max value per card $50,000, turnaround time of 3 business days
- Unlimited Walkthrough ($150 or $165 per card + 1% Fair Market Value): Unlimited max value per card, turnaround time of 3 business days
CGC also offers these additional services to supplement their grading options:
- Error (+$5 per card): Grading for cards with printing errors; ideal for any sort of major misprint
- Pedigree (+$5 per card): Establishes past or present ownership from significant collections or collectors. Documentation required for past ownership history
- CrossOver (no extra charge): Regrading from CGC if card is in a BGS or PSA slab
- Reholder ($10): Takes card from an existing CGC slab and places it in a new CGC slab without changing the grade. Max value per card $10,000, turnaround time of 10 business days
- Reholder – High Value ($30): Takes card from an existing CGC slab and places it in a new CGC slab without changing the grade. Unlimited max value per card, turnaround time of 10 business days
- Imaging (+$5 per card): High resolution digital images of all cards in your order (front and back). Not available for on-site services, add an additional 10 business days to the turnaround time
Finally, you’ll need to factor in your return shipping costs. CGC uses FedEx for most of their shipping, and your rate will vary between $20 and $175 in the US or $80 and $225 elsewhere. They cover the cost of insurance for up to $100,000 per package at no additional charge to you.
These prices are notably higher than BGS, but the grading options are also quite a bit more robust. As with BGS, I recommend paying extra for the card subgrades (centering, corners, edges, and surface), and if you’re planning on selling your card(s) in the future, the digital imaging option will save you a lot of time when advertising to prospective buyers.
CGC also has a population report for cards they’ve graded, so once your card goes through their professionals, you can reference it or compare its grade against other copies at your convenience.
Notably higher pricing also means you should almost never send a low value card in except maybe for misprints or other similarly rare cards. CGC also does not grade signatures on trading cards at all. This is a notable deviation from BGS, and really the only possible service that is missing from their catalog.
While these pricing details are unfortunately spread across several pages, it is also worth noting that CGC does a much better of organizing the cost of working with them up front, and a membership through them allows you to grade many different kinds of collectibles, including comics, currency, sports cards, and more.
In short, plan on spending at least $45 in addition to the cost of your first grading session with CGC if you’re based in the US, or $105 if you’re based anywhere else. Each subsequent batch of cards you send in will only have shipping ($20+ or $80+) as an additional cost.
Sending multiple cards in at once is a good way to reduce shipping costs, and CGC offers enough grading options to cover any authenticity requirement (with certain exceptions, including signatures).
How Much Does PSA Grading Cost?
Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) is a bit strange in some respects compared to BGS and CGC. The most notable difference is that PSA doesn’t offer information on a card‘s subgrades in their grading system, so when your card is graded, you may not have access to a full explanation for its ranking based on traditional subgrades without inquiring directly.
Here are the current prices to grade cards with PSA (all turnaround times are estimates):
- Bulk ($18 per card): Max value per card $199, turnaround time of 90 business days
- Value ($30 per card): Max value per card $499, turnaround time of 90-120 business days
- Economy ($50 per card): Max value per card $999, turnaround time of 45-90 business days
- Regular ($100 per card): Max value per card $1,499, turnaround time of 15-30 business days
- Express ($150 per card): Max value per card $2,499, turnaround time of 14 business days
- Super Express ($300 per card): Max value per card $4,999, turnaround time of 7 business days
- Walk-Through ($600 per card): Max value per card $9,999, turnaround time of 3 business days
If you’re grading an especially valuable card, PSA also offers premium grading services:
- Premium 1 ($1,000 per card): Max value per card $24,999, turnaround time of 3 business days
- Premium 2 ($2,000 per card): Max value per card $49,999, turnaround time of 3 business days
- Premium 3 ($3,000 per card): Max value per card $99,999, turnaround time of 3 business days
- Premium 5 ($5,000 per card): Max value per card $249,999, turnaround time of 3 business days
- Premium 10 ($10,000 per card): Value per card must be $250,000+, turnaround time of 3 business days
Like BGS, PSA also offers a dual authentication and grading service for signed cards – just add 20% to the price tiers listed above. Turnaround times vary a little here – most take 2-10 days longer than simply grading the card (the more expensive the service, the less time that is added), but all premium options are estimated to be finished within 1 business day instead of 3.
PSA also offers these additional services to supplement their grading and authentication options:
- Reholder ($25, $30, or $50): Transfers a PSA slabbed card from an untampered PSA case to a new one. Max value per card $4,999, $4,999, and $19,999, respectively; turnaround times vary by demand with no listed guideline. Min
- Expedited services are available at $75, $100, $250, and $500. Max value per card $49,999, $99,999, $499,999, and $500,000+ respectively; turnaround times vary by demand with no listed guideline
- Crossover (Same cost as equivalent grading tier): Regrades cards from other grading companies; full grading charge is assessed regardless of whether the card meets your minimum grade requirements
- Pedigree Service (case by case basis): Establishes past or present ownership from significant collections or collectors; approval for this service is solely at PSA’s discretion
PSA also offers their own shipping instructions to help ensure your cards make it safely to them for grading.
Okay, I know I said CGC was a bit expensive when it comes to grading, but PSA really takes the cake for cards worth more than $1,000. They’re also going to be the slowest to process any order outside their premium tiers by a wide margin.
Their shipping rates are at least appreciably lower than other BGS and CGC to help offset this, ranging from $14 – $151+ in the US and $46 – $80+ internationaly depending on the declared value and number of cards being shipped.
As is done by other major grading services, PSA adds any card graded by them to a population report that can be accessed at your leisure to locate information on your card or compare it against other copies that have been graded by them.
Additionally, all grading tiers from Economy up receive a free SecureScan service that takes high resolution scans of the front and back of any cards they grade and makes them available via their website.
This is a nice benefit that BGS doesn’t appear to offer at all and CGC charges $5 per card for, and is very useful for selling or regrading when it comes up.
Finally, PSA will grade cards with certain types of errors, including miscuts, off-center cards, and other print defects. You’ll want to refer to their FAQ for specifics, but an error card will be graded the same as a regular card, receiving a qualifier alongside the grade where appropriate.
In short, plan on spending at least an extra $14 or $46 to have a card graded and shipped back through PSA. They will give you scans of your cards at no additional charge, but not subgrades for centering, corners, edges, and surface.
They offer a reasonable suite of grading services, but are notably more expensive than BGS or CGC and have much slower turnaround times.
Which Grading Company Is The Best?
While BGS, CGC, and PSA are all great choices for grading trading cards, I’d recommend CGC ahead of the others if your card can be graded through them. While none of these companies do a particularly good job of organizing expected grading costs, CGC is head and shoulders above the others here, and in setting expectations up front.
Additionally, CGC has the most robust selection of grading services for any cards that aren’t signed, and while they’re more expensive than BGS, you can put a lot more information about your cards and their history on file than you can from either BGS or PSA.
If you’re getting signed cards graded or are looking for the best overall pricing, BGS should be your company of choice. While I don’t personally appreciate being nickeled and dimed for every little thing, BGS notably doesn’t set their tier pricing based on the value of your card – they do it based on turnaround time.
This is a huge benefit for those grading higher end cards, as you don’t have to spend a lot of money getting a card graded – most of your additional costs are simply going to be tied up in paying for shipping insurance when BGS sends it back to you – and it’s still way cheaper than PSA’s base grading costs in most cases.
The tradeoff here is that BGS has the worst site experience of the 3 major grading companies – finding information about their offered services without a guide like this is an afternoon project, and the fact that you have to dig through multiple websites AND start a submission to assess total costs is obnoxious.
PSA is the most expensive grading company by far, but walks the middle of the road in terms of site experience and service options. I can’t in good conscience recommend them as a go-to over BGS or CGC by any metric the average collector cares about, but that doesn’t make them bad graders – quite the opposite actually.
No matter which company you elect to go with when grading your rarest and most valuable trading card game (TCG) cards, all have the potential to authenticate, preserve, and increase the value of your cards. There’s a reason BGS, CGC, and PSA are the juggernauts of the TCG industry when it comes to grading, and it’s their consistently high quality maintained over many years.
All sourced company logos are the registered trademark and copyright of their original owners, and only appear in this article in an informative capacity.
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Braden is a founder of Assorted Meeples and has been a gamer & writer with a vivid imagination all his life. Don’t believe us? Check out his excitement when meeting Goosebumps author R.L. Stine as a kid! An avid Magic: The Gathering spellslinger for over 15 years, you can always convince him to shuffle up for a game (or three!) of Commander.