Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) is one of the top third-party card grading companies in the hobby. They authenticate and assign quality grades to trading cards that are then encapsulated in hard plastic for protection. But with PSA‘s reputation for consistency and expertise comes higher costs. So is PSA grading actually free?
The short answer is no – PSA grading is not free. There are costs associated with having your cards authenticated and graded by PSA‘s team of experts. However, there are ways to reduce the grading fees or even get select cards graded for free under special promotional offers.
PSA Grading Costs
PSA‘s grading fees start at $20 per card for their Value tier. Their highest end Express tier costs $600 per card. Here is a breakdown of PSA‘s current grading price tiers:
- Value – $20 per card
- Value Plus – $30 per card
- Regular – $50 per card
- Express – $100 per card
- Super Express – $250 per card
- Walkthrough – $500 per card
- Special Release – $600 per card
Keep in mind there are minimum submission requirements for some tiers. For example, you need at least 5 cards for Value and 20 cards for Value Plus submissions.
Higher value cards can be graded by PSA but the charges are based on the declared value instead of a flat per card rate. For example, cards valued up to $99 can use the Regular tier but will cost 2.5% of the total declared value.
What Influences PSA Grading Prices?
Several factors determine PSA‘s grading costs:
- Tier – Higher tiers like Express have faster turnaround times and cost more.
- Value – More valuable cards have grading prices based on the declared value.
- Turnaround – Faster turnaround tiers cost much more.
- Bulk Submissions – Submitting many cards at once reduces per card costs.
- Special Offers – Occasional promotions let you grade cards for free.
Is PSA Grading Worth the Cost?
Grading cards professionally with PSA definitely comes at a premium cost, but there are good reasons why it is worth it for many collectors. Some key benefits include:
- Authentication – PSA validates authenticity of graded cards.
- Condition Verification – The grade affirms the quality and condition of a card.
- Encapsulation – The hard plastic holder protects the card and keeps it mint.
- Increased Value – High graded cards can sell for exponentially more.
- Liquidation – Graded cards are easier to resell.
- Peace of Mind – PSA backing eliminates grading doubts or risks.
How to Get PSA Grading for Free
There are a few ways you can get your cards graded by PSA for free:
Wait for promotions – PSA occasionally offers free grading events at major trading card shows or conventions. These are limited to a certain number of cards per customer.
Buy pre-graded cards – Look for graded PSA cards for sale where the grading fee is already accounted for in the price. This is essentially getting the PSA service for free.
Use vouchers – Check on eBay or other secondary markets for PSA grading vouchers which provide free or discounted grading credits.
Trade services – Find adealer or collector who will grade your cards in exchange for grading their cards.
Win contests – PSA sometimes gives away free grading as prizes for different contests.
Should You Use PSA‘s Free Grading Offers?
PSA‘s free grading promotions are great chances to get cards encapsulated without the normal fees. But free grading events often have long wait times and long turnarounds. The free vouchers also tend to be for lower service tiers.
Cards valued at $500+ or very time sensitive items may not be practical for the free service. The cost and faster turnaround of Express or Super Express tiers could be worth it.
PSA Grading Wait Times
Part of PSA grading costs goes towards faster turnaround speeds. Here are the current PSA grading wait times for each tier:
|Value Plus||4-6 months|
|Express||45 business days|
|Super Express||5 business days|
|Special Release||24 hours|
As you can see, the free/discounted tiers like Value and Value Plus have very long wait times. Even Regular service can take 3-5 months. For quicker turnarounds, Express or Super Express offer faster speeds for exponentially higher prices.
PSA vs BGS vs SGC Grading Costs
PSA is not the only reputable trading card grading company. Beckett Grading Services (BGS) and Sportscard Guaranty Corporation (SGC) also offer quality grading services. Here is a comparison of their grading costs:
|Company||Lowest Tier||Price Per Card||Turnaround Time|
|SGC||Standard||$30||45 business days|
For bulk submissions, BGS Standard tier is the most affordable at $18 per card. But SGC Standard offers faster 45 business day turnaround compared to the 6-12 months for the budget PSA and BGS tiers.
Most Valuable PSA 10 Graded Cards
Once you have cards graded, getting the highest grades like Gem Mint PSA 10 can dramatically increase values. Here are some of the most expensive PSA 10 cards:
- Mike Trout Rookie – $3.9 million
- Mickey Mantle Rookie – $2.8 million
- Kobe Bryant Rookie – $1.8 million
- Tom Brady Rookie – $1.3 million
- Giannis Antetokounmpo Rookie – $1.1 million
- Kevin Durant Rookie – $750k
- Luka Doncic Rookie – $600k
- LeBron James Rookie – $480k
Of course these are exceptional examples, but they demonstrate how sought after and valuable PSA 10 graded cards of star players can become.
Safely Shipping Cards to PSA
When submitting your cards to PSA through the mail, you want to make sure they are protected for the journey. Here are some tips:
- Use penny sleeves and top loaders to secure the cards. Avoid touching card surfaces.
- Place cards between two pieces of cardboard for stability.
- Wrap tightly in bubble wrap or packaging foam sheets.
- Put wrapped cards in a sturdy box or envelope to avoid bending.
- Insure your package and require signature confirmation.
- Take clear photos of the cards before shipping for reference.
- Keep a list of all cards in the submission with identifying details.
Following those guidelines helps prevent damage and provides proof of condition in case issues arise.
PSA Grading Scale
A big part of the value derived from PSA grading is the 1-10 scale used to reflect a card‘s condition. Here is what each PSA grade number means:
- PSA 10 – Gem Mint (Perfect)
- PSA 9 – Mint
- PSA 8 – Near Mint-Mint
- PSA 7 – Near Mint
- PSA 6 – Excellent
- PSA 5 – Very Good-Excellent
- PSA 4 – Very Good
- PSA 3 – Good
- PSA 2 – Good
- PSA 1 – Poor
PSA will not grade cards below a 1. Half grades like 8.5 can also be given. Anything PSA 8 or above is considered investment quality.
PSA Authentication Process
Before assigning a grade, PSA first authenticates that the card is real. Their experts check for:
- Card size, weight, construction
- Alignment, centering
- Fonts, lettering
- Holograms, logos
- Material textures, colors, finish
This validation provides peace of mind you are getting the real card. Authentication is factored into grading costs.
PSA vs BGS Grading Scales
PSA uses the 1-10 grading scale while BGS utilises an entirely different 1-10 scale with half points:
- BGS 10 = PSA 10 (Gem Mint)
- BGS 9.5 = PSA 10 (Gem Mint)
- BGS 9 = PSA 9 (Mint)
- BGS 8.5 ≈ PSA 9 (Mint)
- BGS 8 ≈ PSA 8 (NM-Mint)
A BGS 9.5 is equivalent to a PSA 10 grade. But a BGS 9 is considered slightly worse than a PSA 9. BGS subgrades also allow for more granularity.
Buying PSA Graded Cards
You can skip PSA grading fees altogether by purchasing cards already graded by PSA. When buying PSA encapsulated cards:
- Verify PSA serial number matches label on slab
- Check for PSA tamper-evident label intact
- Inspect card for damage not mentioned
- Research fair value for the grade
- Avoid deals that seem too good to be true
Reputable sellers will provide clear images and details about the condition of graded cards.
Grading Modern vs Vintage Cards
Submitting newer modern cards (2000 to present) to PSA for grading follows similar practices as vintage cards. But some strategic differences include:
- Focus on rookies and RC parallels – Modern rookie cards hold more premium than veterans.
- Maximize value while still affordable – Modern base and inserts are plentiful. Stick to higher-end parallels and numbered cards that warrant the grading investment.
- Faster turnaround – The populations of new releases are rapidly graded. Using Express or Super Express ensures you capitalize on release hype.
- Stricter grading – Modern quality control allows less variance. Centering, edges, and surface perfection is emphasized.
Re-Submitting to PSA for Re-Grades
If you believe PSA under-graded a card, you can pay to have them re-grade it by submitting again. Tips for successful re-grades include:
- Only re-submit if card is realistically >2 points undergraded (i.e. PSA 8 should be PSA 10)
- Ensure card has not deteriorated since last grading
- Remove old PSA label carefully to not damage card
- Use fast Super Express tier to get viewed rapidly by senior graders
- Provide notes detailing what flaws have been improved or overlooked
Keep in mind there is financial risk if the grade does not change. Reputable dealers can consult if a re-grade is advisable.
Crossover Grading Between PSA and BGS
Crossover grading takes a card already graded by one company and has it graded by another. Reasons for crossover grading include:
- To upgrade perceived under-grades
- For a second opinion from other experts
- To have matching brands in a set
- Attempting a higher grade for increased value
PSA and BGS allow crossover submissions. PSA charges its normal fees while BGS has a flat $10 crossover fee. No guarantees the grade will change though.
While PSA grading is certainly not free, the service provides great value to collectors by preserving and verifying the authenticity and condition of trading cards. The cost may be worthwhile for very valuable cards or key pieces you want to have graded. With different tiers available, you can find the right balance of turnaround time and price for your needs.