The Best Grading Card Companies of 2021

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Grading card companies started in early 1990s and since then have become a mainstay in the trading card industry. Following the unprecedented 2020 year in sports cards, demand for grading in 2021 is extremely high resulting in multi-month delays for most card grading services.   

There is no guarantee on the grade a card will receive, but a Gem-Mint or Pristine card will significantly increase the value of a trading card leading to card collectors and investors to submit thousands, if not millions, of cards each year for grading.

To help you maximize your returns and learn about card grading options, I evaluated six grading card companies and will share my top picks with you. Here are the six, listed in alphabetical order, and I have provided my top picks at the end of this article.  

Best Card Grading Companies in 2021

Beckett Grading

Beckett Grading Services Logo
  • Prices: $20 – $250 / card, depending on service level (see below)
  • Grading Scale: 1-Poor to 10-Pristine, including .5 scores (e.g., 8.5)
  • Turnaround time: Varies and delayed as of Feb. 2021, see Beckett Grading
  • Services: modern and vintage card grading, authentication, comic book grading
  • Year Founded: 1999
Beckett Grading Services Prices

Founded in 1999 and headquartered in Yorba Linda, CA, Beckett Grading Services is among the most popular grading services in the trading card industry. Beckett offers “a high-quality sports card grading service” for both modern (1981 – present) and vintage (1980 and prior) cards.

The Beckett “Black Label” commands extremely high prices in the trading card market. For example, this 2003 Topps Chrome LeBron James BGS 10 RC sold for ~$89,000 in December 2020.

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Pros

  • BGS-10-Pristine cards capture highest value in market
  • Established brand and reputation
  • Internal sleeve inside plastic case

Cons

  • BGS 10-Pristine is extremely rare
  • Vintage card catalog not as comprehensive as others
  • Delayed turnaround times (as of February 2021)

GMA Grading

GMA Grading Logo
  • Prices: $6 – $20 / card, depending on service level and order size (see below)
  • Grading Scale: 1-Fair to 10-Gem-Mint, including .5 scores (e.g., 8.5)
  • Turnaround time: Varies and delayed as of Feb. 2021, see GMA Grading
  • Services: card grading
  • Year Founded: 2000

Founded in 2000 and headquartered in Odessa, FL, GMA Grading Services is an up-and-coming grading service. The GMA value proposition offered on their website reads “Only $8 Per Card. Why Pay More? Sports and Non-Sports Cards.”  

GMA offers lower-priced grading services because they do not have the same brand recognition as PSA and BGS. I have not used GMA, but the company provides a Testimonials Page which features several happy customers.  

Pros

  • Lowest price among services reviewed
  • Turnaround times for basic service faster than most (as of February 2021)

Cons

  • Brand recognition lower than some competitors
  • GMA-10-Gem-Mint cards valued less than PSA, BGS, and SGA

HGA Grading

  • Prices: $20 – $55 / card, depending on service level and order size (see below)
  • Grading Scale: 1 to 10 (limited information available thus far)  
  • Turnaround time: Varies (see below)
  • Services: card grading
  • Year Founded: 2021 (as far as I can tell)
HGA Grading Prices

Founded in 2021 and headquartered in Seymour, TN, Hybrid Grading Approach (HGA) is a brand-new grading service. According to the HGA website, the company states, “HGA is revolutionizing the industry by implementing software that will allow [them] to scan, analyze, and grade cards without subjectivity.”    

I believe technology will play a significant role in card grading in the future, but the concept is new and will take time to adopt. HGA appears to be a pioneer in the space, but if the technology gains traction, you can expect more established players, such as PSA, Beckett, and SGA, to incorporate technology as well.  

Pros

  • Technology enabled grading to remove subjectivity and improve consistency
  • Pricing based on turnaround time, not card value
  • Slab labels color coordinated with team colors

Cons

  • New, unproven technology  
  • Lacks comprehensive card catalog
  • HGA 10-Gem-Mint value is unknown in market to-date
  • Lowest grading price is higher than competitors (e.g., $20 instead of $8-10)

PSA Grading

  • Prices: $20 – $5,000 / card, depending on service level (see below)
  • Grading Scale: 1-Poor to 10-Gem-Mint, including .5 scores (e.g., 8.5) and qualifiers (e.g., Off Center, Staining, Print Defect)
  • Turnaround time: Varies and mostly suspended of May 2021, see PSA Grading
  • Services: modern and vintage card grading, unopened pack grading, autograph authentication, original photograph authentication, ticket grading, sports memorabilia authentication
  • Year Founded: 1991

Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Santa Ana, CA, Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) is among the most well-established and popular brands in card grading. According to the PSA website, “PSA has processed over 30 million cards and collectibles with cumulative declared value of over a billion dollars.”  

PSA is well regarded in the card grading industry. Collectors and investors regularly pay significant premiums for PSA 10-Gem-Mint cards even compared to Gem-Mint graded cards from other grading companies. As a result, PSA grading is in high demand which has impacted turnaround times significantly in 2021.

Pros

  • PSA 10-Gem-Mint valued above all other ‘Gem-Mint’ grades in market
  • Established brand and reputation
  • Large modern and vintage card catalog

Cons

  • Suspended grading (as of May 2021)
  • No half-point grade between 9 and 10 (e.g., 9.5)

ISA Grading

ISA Grading Logo
  • Prices: $10 – $25 / card, depending on service level and size of order (see below)
  • Grading Scale: 1-Poor to 10-Gem-Mint, including .5 scores (e.g., 8.5)
  • Turnaround time: 2-10 days, unknown if there are delays, see ISA Grading
  • Services: card grading
  • Year Founded: 2010
ISA Grading Prices

Founded in 2010 and headquartered in New Hudson, MI, International Sports Authentication (ISA) is an up-and-coming grading service in the card grading industry. According to the ISA website, the company was started to provide card-collectors with another grading option outside of the ~3 that existed at the time.

For example, the company states, “Customers are always pleased when their grading experiences feature quick turnaround, consistent grading, and a quality product—all at a fair price. ISA has built its business on these cornerstones.”

Pros

  • Low prices compared to competitors
  • Turnaround times appear to be less impacted in 2021

Cons

  • Brand recognition lower than some competitors
  • ISA 10-Gem-Mint grades likely capture lower values than competitors, but limited data available for my analysis to confirm

SGC Grading

SGC Grading Logo
  • Prices: $30 – $3,750 / card, depending on service level (see below)
  • Grading Scale: 1-Poor to 10-Pristine, including .5 scores (e.g., 8.5)
  • Turnaround time: Varies and delayed as of Feb. 2021, see SGC Grading
  • Services: modern and vintage card grading, uniform authentication
  • Year Founded: 1998

Founded in 1998 and headquartered in Boca Raton, FL, SGC is a well-established grading company with history. Despite existing since 1998, SGC is less well-known than PSA and Beckett among modern card collectors.

According to the SGC website, SGC has “continuously set the industry standard with consistency, integrity, and quality of [their] services.” This claim is supported by a history of card collectors paying premiums for SGC 10-Gem-Mint cards. For example, the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan RC#57 SGC 10 sold for ~$150,000 in January 2021.

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Pros

  • SGC 10-Gem-Mint cards are valued similar to Beckett Gem-Mint and higher than GMA
  • Established brand and reputation
  • Large card catalog especially with vintage cards

Cons

  • SGC 10-Gem-Mint captures less value than PSA 10 Gem-Mint

Comparing card grade market value

Both the company and the grade determine the market value of a card. For someone who is deciding which card grading company to use, it is critical to understand the market value you can expect based on the company and grade of the card.

To understand how much the grading company and grade change the market value for a card, I conducted an analysis on the 2018 Panini Prizm Luka Doncic Base RC #280. I used the following parameters:

  • Auction prices only, based on PWCC Market Price Research
  • Identified a time when the Luka Prizm base #280 was transacted by the most grade company + grade combinations. I used September 2020.
  • Included 10 transactions from September 2020 and took the average when sufficient data was available, otherwise I used less than 10 transactions.  
  • Eliminated Grading Company and / or Grades due to insufficient data
  • Indexed prices against PSA 10 price to provide easy comparison

Results of card grade market value analysis

GradePrice# of ObservationsIndex
BGS 10$4,72523.63
PSA 10$1,300101.00
SGC 10$79590.61
BGS 9.5$760100.58
GMA 10$63010.48
PSA 9$425100.33
BGS 9 Mint$390100.30
SGC 9$36040.28
BGS 8.5$35030.27
GMA 9$34010.26
SGC 8.5$23510.18
PSA 8.5No data available
ISANo data available
HGANo data available

Although it is important to keep in mind this analysis is for only one card, there are several interesting takeaways from this analysis:

  • BGS 10-Pristine Graded cards are valued at 3-4x PSA 10-Gem-Mint cards
  • PSA 10-Gem-Mint Graded cards are valued at 1.5-2x Gem-Mint grades from BGS, SGC, and GMA (note: BGS 9.5 = “Gem-Mint”)
  • GMA graded cards are consistently valued lower than PSA, BGS, and SGC

Items you may need before you submit cards for grading

Fortunately, there are only a few items you may need before you submit your cards for grading, including:

Click image to shop on Amazon
  • Penny sleeves: these are flimsy, thin plastic sleeves that serve as the first line of defense against scratches, finger prints, and any other source of surface damage. I always buy Ultra Pro and have been happy with their products thus far. (Shop on Amazon)
  • Semi-rigid card holder: these card holders provide a second layer of protection for your cards. Two layers is not overkill, it’s standard industry practice for trading cards. Card Saver is likely the most well-known brand, and the brand I buy to store and send my cards. (Shop on Amazon)
  • Painter’s tape: I use painter’s tape to secure a more rigid form of protection, such as pieces of cardboard, around the plastic sleeves my cards are in. I like painter’s tape because I can easily rip into pieces with my hands and remove the tape easily from surfaces. (Shop on Amazon)
  • Bubble wrap (or other): Bubble wrap can serve as an added layer of protection to wrap your card holders in. I absolutely recommend the added layer of protection, but bubble wrap is only one approach. I use cardboard boxes and packing paper, but bubble wrap also works. (Shop on Amazon)

The most important part is ensuring that your cards are protected during shipping. I’ve sent many cards using a combination of penny sleeves, semi-rigid card holders, painter’s tape, cardboard box pieces, and packing paper and have never had an issue with cards getting damaged.

Top picks for card grading companies in 2021

My top picks for card grading companies in 2021 are PSA, BGS, and SGC. These are my preferred choices because I care about the market value of my cards and want to be able to capture the highest prices from buyers.

Please keep in mind that my top picks are based on my personal preferences. If you want your cards to be put in a slab at the most affordable price, GMA may be the best option for you.

Alternatively, if you are curious about the latest technology in card grading, you may want to give HGA a try. I will likely send HGA a few of my cards this year to learn more about the new technology.

Regardless of which you choose, all six card grading companies exist to support your enjoyment of the card collecting hobby. That is the most important part. Happy collecting!

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27 Responses

  1. funny no mention of the Canadian card companies KSA and Mint Since 2021 KSA has improved with its grading almost no 10s and Mint well iv never seen a 10 if were grading by 2021 standards then they would be mentioned . OH wait they are Canadian what was I thinking .

    1. Im actully about to send to Mint. I like their graded look. It looks cleaner. Also Its cheaper. Btw im in the US and its still cheaper to send 2 cards there and get them back in 6 days than it is to send them to CGC for about 90 days

    2. Why would there be mention of Canadian owned companies???This article was published in the U.S. Who wants to go through the process of shipping outside of the U.S.?

  2. 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee OPC Hockey #18 Wayne Gretzky RC Rookie HOF KSA 8 NMM

    1979-80 O-Pee-Chee OPC Hockey #18 Wayne Gretzky RC Rookie HOF BVG 7.5

    Both Cards sold for approx $ 8000 on E-Bay

  3. Love your passion and dedication to the grading industry. However, in the last month or so, many of the companies mentioned that they will be curtailing their service due to the huge demand, raising their prices, extending their wait time and in some cases all of the above.

    While looking for possible alternatives I have discovered a company, Certified Sports Guarantee (CSG) that you didn’t mention as they are somewhat new to the business. Their website is very impressive and they are part of the ownership that runs NGC, PMG and CGC certification services. Just wondering how you feel about CSG?
    Thanks so much.

  4. Yes, you are absolutely right. With respect to CSG, I hadn’t heard of them until you mentioned them here. I agree with you, they appear to have hired good talent to grade cards. I also believe the eye-appeal of the label is better than traditional companies. That said, I would be surprised if a card graded by CSG will command the same prices for a similar grade as you would get from PSA or Beckett.

    I looked at one example: 1991 Michael Jordan Upper Deck #SP1 (baseball, not basketball). It looks like recent sales on this card were the following: PSA 10 ($730), BGS 9.5 ($300), SGC 9.5 ($188), CGS 9.5 ($190). Therefore, it appears CGS can command prices similar to SGC, but lower than PSA and BGS.

    Also, I can say anecdotally that I have had a harder time selling cards not graded by BGS or PSA, so keep that in mind as well. If you are grading a key player’s card, there will always be a market for that, regardless of the grading company, but it is a player who isn’t hot and / or a card that collectors are less interested in, you may have a harder time moving it.

    Lastly, I would say it really depends on what you’re looking to do with the card. The above assumes you care about the value you could sell the card for to someone else. If that is not a concern of yours, I think the quality of grading you would get from CSG would be just fine.

  5. csg pretty much copied bgs , they have 2 different 10s. a perfect 10 is their highest, i have yet to see one on ebay, their is a couple pristine 10s and more 9.5s then 9’s. I got a tom brady graded it got a 10, 9.5,9, 7.5 overall it got an 8. like bgs they only go up a half point to a point from the lowest sub grade . which means a 9.5, 9.5, 9.5, 9 could technically get a 10 overall. My brother submitted a derek jeter this thing was scratched bad and every corner was dinged some how he got an 8, but his steph curry looked like a mint card and it only got an 8.5. The Jeter should have been a 6 and i guess the curry is what it. heres the thing, somebody who is not me trimmed that card before he got it . it still got graded they didnt notice. so, i traded him something for it and broke the slab. . i tee’d that bitch up and pulled big bertha out. i wiffed the first swing (god da##it!)(bleep, bleep !) i havent played 9 holes in years but i can drive 260y in my sleep, after a small bucket tho. i hit the sweat spot on the second swing. right on the top corner of the slab. it poped it open and still went 100 yards down the street.

  6. 1991 Michael Jordan Upper Deck #SP1 (baseball, not basketball). It looks like recent sales on this card were the following: PSA 10 ($730), BGS 9.5 ($300), SGC 9.5 ($188), CGS 9.5 ($190).

    sll those csrds would cross to a psa 10 the csg and sgc for sure the bgs is 50/50. iread some guy regraded an sgc 8 with csg and got a 9.5 which is basically a psa 10. so ive been looking to buy newer prism cards that sgc graded 8s and im going to send to csg

  7. I found a few rookie cards in my mom’s attic that could be valuable depending on how they get graded. It appears that the grading companies require that you mail them the cards to be graded and are not taking walk-ins due to the pandemic. That seems crazy to me. I am not accusing anyone of anything but my layman’s eye would probably never know if they swapped out an inferior quality card. Anyone have any solutions or ideas?

  8. Your analysis is interesting but flawed. You need to factor in the cost of grading the card to the analysis. Especially since PSA is charging for the value of your card, so with PSA you are paying $300 for their service. The resultant ranking is likely the same but it improves the index for the less expensive companies.

    Also, PSA is basically stealing your card value; does it really cost them $300 to grade a 10 but less to grade a 5, are they looking at the 10 longer and harder. How do they justify the theft of services?

    1. they ask you the value of the card when you send it. the higher you put the better they will treat it. . they wont switch out a card that you believe is worth a million dollars. if they were going to cheat you it would be on a card that was under estimated, because if they get caught they only have to pay what you thought it was worth. “this guy thinks his michael jordan rc is only worth 100 bucks! lets say it got stolen and pay him the 100” or “this guy thinks this honus wagner is a reprint, its real” also buy the highest quality scanner and scan the cards, then you can compare it to their scan.

  9. Yes, fair point. You’re right about that. I’ll try to update to include the net value of the card which includes the cost in addition to the revenue.

    And totally agree with you on PSA pricing model. I like how HGA is approaching pricing. You pay for turnaround time, but not card value. With tech-enabled services and a new pricing model, they seem to be disrupting card grading in a good way. Let’s hope it forces the traditional companies (PSA, BGS, and SGC) to adopt similar practices that collectors value.

  10. I have hundreds of rookie cards of baseball HOF-ers dating from mid 70s-90s. I collected these cards based on condition. I have yet to have them graded since I stopped collecting.

    Does anyone have advice for me on how to start the process of grading them, which cards to submit, to where and most cost effective way to do so?

    Thanks

    1. If you would like to resale the cards on the market, Id suggest using PSA when they start taking the value based submissions again sometime in July I do believe. If you are going to keep the cards for your personal collection, Id suggest SGC. The vintage cards look great in the SGC slabs and the fees are a bit cheaper.

  11. i have a BCCG 6 o-pee-chee gretzky rc that looks like a psa 0. this thing was folded in half and still they gave it an excellent grade. i also have a derek jeter score select rc bccg 10, the corners are bent. whats worse is that its only 1 of 3 10s in their population report. csg said they will only cross grade bgs psa and sgc they treat every other graded card like its raw. Pwcc will allow us to sell bccg cards on their marketplace but they wont allow gma cards. gma grades are more accurate than bccg but bccg is still worth more than gma. gma grades reprints, thats their money maker no one else will grade homemade cards. people are paying 100 dollars for gma 10 kobe rc reprints. its not even a licensed reprint its a photo copy.. i dont think people understand what reprint means. its not like topps is reprinting, its probably illegal . but people dont care, they just want something that looks expensive for cheap.

  12. I’ve never been a fan of having cards graded. It’s always come off as a sort of scam to me. Putting something of mine that’s rare and valuable in the mail just so a stranger can judge it, assign it a number, and permanently seal it in a plastic holder doesn’t appeal to me. There are too many variables and things that can go wrong in the process for my liking. Cards are likes stocks – and stocks can and have been manipulated since their inception. Given the prices and rarity of some cards today, well, let’s just say the classic principals of “supply and demand” must be taken into account. And given how most hardcore collectors live and die “pop reports”, who’s to say the integrity of a card is the one and only factor involved in most of the bigger company’s grading systems? I’m not willing to go there. But that’s just me. Sure, I may be leaving a lot of money on the table. But then again, I don’t sell a ton of cards.

    Card grading services seem like they are there more for the kind of people who either don’t trust themselves enough to make big decisions for themselves, or, a safeguard for the hobby to ensure it’s relevance for years to come by providing the scarcity needed to drive/maintain a market that tends to crash itself from time to time due to over production.

  13. 2020 was one of the craziest years in sports card history! never seen prices like this before. PSA, BGS are my top 2 picks but SGC and HGA are great also. really depends on that card that you want to get graded
    and the value of the card. the prices vary widely based on the declared value of the card that you are getting professionally graded.

  14. It looks like PSA is adopting the HGA grading concept in its purchase of Genamint. Not sure if PSA will change it’s grading methods/prices but utilizing AI software in card grading is the way of the future?.?.

    1. Yeah, I saw that as well. My guess is PSA will adopt a hybrid approach. I don’t think AI can completely replace human graders, but can be used to improve consistency across graders and make the individual grader more consistent. I think this will only be good for the hobby.

  15. I like that you mention that PSA does not have a 9.5. That makes no sense and I think it’s a con that often gets overlooked with PSA. Also, as mentioned earlier CSG is definitely an up-and-comer and in my estimation is the best candidate to actually compete with “The Big 3”. One other thing that’s worth mentioning in the hierarchy of grades: Beckett has two different versions of a 10 and so does SGC. So the pecking order looks like this:
    Beckett Black Label 10
    SGC 10 Green/Gold label
    Beckett 10
    PSA 10
    SGC 10
    Beckett 9.5
    SGC 9.5
    PSA 9
    SGC/Beckett 9(SGC holds more weight in vintage, BGS out performs them in modern)

  16. It’s interesting that people prefer PSA just because it’s a name and not necessarily the most accurate. I think companies like HGA with the technology and colorful ( at your option with no additional cost) slabs will catch on. In fact, I just sent them some cards. Remember, sometimes the bigger they are, the harder they fall. PSA and Beckett can face issues if they continue to either not take submissions and/or have lengthy delays in service.

  17. We are waiting for our first order back from HGA. I have seen a number of graded cards and many of the varied options for labeling. I can’t wait to see our order.

    A friend got some cards back last week and we were impressed with the accuracy of grading. Also, he had requested a couple labels changed after he had submitted the order and had seen more examples in person. He reported that they were extremely accommodating and easy to reach. I deal in a variety of cards from sports, to CCGs, and non-sport cards and I can see the varied label formats etc. appealing to different collectors. Many current labels are drab to say the least. HGAs pricing based on turnaround time and not the card value is also attractive. Some people without a ton of money and/or the ability to wait for large stretches of time will likely find HGA appealing. I see HGA and their business model easy to like for the smaller dealers and collectors. It could be a strong up and comer, but time will tell. S, far, I am very pleased with what I am seeing and hearing.

  18. I really don’t care for the companies that charge by the card value? Doesn’t that give them an incentive to possibly grade it higher, especially if it would cross over to a higher value, thus making more money? Plus it prices out the small, younger, new collector from getting cards graded. Just because they’ve been around longer doesn’t make them better. I’ve had a few cards graded by HGA, and I’m impressed and was a bit disappointed on a few cards that didn’t grade as high as I thought they would be.
    As collectors, if we stand together and push those that charge by value, to change their pricing structure, we can effect change in the industry. Send complaints to those companies, boycott those companies. It doesn’t cost any more to grade a card that is valued @ $50 vs a card that is valued @ $5,000. So why do you let them get away with taking YOUR potential profit or value?

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