A common question by new collectors entering the basketball card hobby is, “Is it worth getting my cards graded?“
While its often true grading a card increases it’s value, you must also consider the cost of grading the card, the time it takes to grade the card, and the future potential value of the card when graded.
What sports cards are worth getting graded?
In order to determine whether or not a card is worth grading by PSA, you must do some research on their website to see what your cards are worth at various grades.
First, its important to understand how difficult a card is to grade. For this, we can take a look at the PSA Population Reports.
Step 1: Go to https://www.psacard.com/pop/
Step 2: Search for the card(s) you want to lookup. (Note: PSA catalogs and grades cards based on the first year of a season. For example, Shaquille O’Neal’s rookie season was 1992-93, but his Topps rookie card will be filed under 1992 Topps.)
Look at the grading breakdown for the card. Let’s take a look at the 1992 Topps Shaquille O’Neal rookie.
As you can see, of the 6,939 cards graded, 1,660 (24%) received a Gem Mint 10, 3,769 (54%) received a Mint 9, and 1,267 (18%) received a Near Mint 8.
This kind of breakdown is a fairly normal bell curve of cards submitted for grading, with a bulk of cards getting a Mint 9 grade. Most cards in mint condition will still have some very minor issues (centering, corner, surface) holding it back from receiving a Gem Mint 10 grade.
Next, you will want to go to recent auction reports to see what a PSA 8 and 9 are selling for.
As you can see, a PSA 8 is averaging $45, while a PSA 9 is selling for an average of $175. If you average those two price points – you arrive at a predicted sale price of $110.
Why average an 8 and 9 sale price? If you card has good corners, the surface if clean, and it’s fairly centered, it could recieve a PSA 10, but you should never bank on it.
I find a conservative approach of banking on mostly 9s and 8s will give you a conservative approach to grading.
As you get more experienced with sending in cards and seeing how cards are graded, you can become much better at making accurate estimates.
Since this card will sell for around $100-$200, it’s definitely worth grading, considering the fees will be $10-$20, depending on the grading service you use.
To see a full breakdown of PSA’s grading fees, check out this page: https://www.psacard.com/pricing/
What sports cards are NOT worth grading?
If a card is only selling for, say, $40 at a PSA 10, you may want to rethink getting it graded.
Generally speaking, most cards will sell at a PSA 9 at about 1/3 to 1/4 the value of a PSA 10. Therefore, a card which sells for $40 at a Gem Mint 10 will probably only sell for $10 at a Mint 9, which is the same cost as getting the card graded.
You can’t bank on 10s. You will be disappointed.
How do I grade my own cards?
When attempting to grade your own cards before sending off to PSA, you need to look at 4 different characteristics of the card.
Corners are the first, easiest part of the card to look at. You are looking to see 4 sharp corners. If not, you are likely already looking at a PSA 9 Mint card, at best.
Edges are next. You want a smooth, clean edge on your cards. No fraying, no chipping. Some cards, especially those with dark ink, will chip quite easily.
Surface is probably the most overlooked characteristic. You want to take a nice, close-up look to make sure there is no chipping or small scratches on the card.
Often, surface issues can go unseen unless you hold them up to the light and tilt the card to see how the light is bouncing off it. You can also look into a jouler’s loupe if you really want a detailed look of the surface.
Centering is last and while import, still has some lenience. PSA wants to see a 60/40 distribution either vertically or horizontally. The card does not have to be absolutely dead centered.
PSA breaks down their grading criteria on their website with some nice image examples.
How much will grading my cards cost?
PSA has all of their pricing broke down on their website: https://www.psacard.com/pricing/
The cost of grading largely depends on the value of the card. Cards valued at $99 or less, you can get graded in a bulk value submission for around $10.
If the card is worth up to $499 after grading, it will cost $20 per card to grade.
I generally value cards at their current PSA 9 market value.
If PSA determines the card is worth quite a bit more than the value you submitted at, they will up-charge you, but it will be worth the additional cost if it can sell for a larger amount on eBay.
How long will it take to grade my cards?
It’s almost impossible to predict how long grading will take. In 2020, due to a global pandemic, PSA not only shutdown temporarily but also had a large influx of people looking to get their cards graded.
This is a good source of information on PSA’s website: https://www.psacard.com/articles/articleview/10107/psa-covid-19-answer-center
Bulk submissions ($10) are currently taking approximately 6-9 months. Economy submissions ($20) are taking 3-5 months. The other higher tier grading submission tiers take less and less time.
These are only estimates based on my own experience, and other things I’ve read online. I make no guarantees and your own submission turnaround times may vary.
PSA will definitely value their high value card submissions and get them back to you in a timely manner.
If you want to read through a forum thread where people are sharing their turnaround times – you can check out this Running PSA Order Blowout Forums thread.
If you have some old basketball cards that have been well preserved, you may want to look them up on PSA to find out their value, and determine whether or not you want to get them graded.
An ungraded card may only sell for $5 on eBay, but that same card graded a Mint 9 may sell for $40.
If you get good at evaluating cards and submit them for grading, you can definitely add a lot of value to your collection.