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An Introduction to Pokemon TCG PSA Grading

I hope that everyone kicked off the New Year in a great way! Welcome back to my collecting article series here at ChannelFireball where I cover all things collecting in the Pokemon Trading Card game. My latest article was a holiday special, where I covered the greatest winter themed Pokemon cards, check it out if you haven’t! Before that, however, I covered some important topics including CGC card grading and more. In that article, I mentioned that similarly structured articles on PSA and BGS grading were on that way. This article is a deep dive into the world of PSA card grading. Whether you have heard of it before or not, sell cards or collect them, I am sure this article will have something for you! I have a lot to talk about, so let’s get started with a look at the company itself. For more reading check out the rest of my line!

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What is PSA?

PSA is an acronym for the company’s full name, Professional Sports Authenticator. Their name is not specifically Pokemon related because Pokemon and non-sports cards in general are only a very small fraction of their business. They handle a ton of sports cards, which I believe is their main function, along with other sports memorabilia and coins of all kinds. I am one of many people who believe that they do a great job with trading cards and that is shown with the large number of cards graded through them every single day.

As for some additional information about them, here are some facts about PSA:

  • PSA was founded in 1991 and has been authenticating collectibles ever since.
  • The company is owned by Collectors Universe.
  • Collector’s Universe was recently overtaken by an investor group led by Nat Turner at $700,000,000 valuation.
  • In June 2019, PSA reached the milestone of grading it’s 75 millionth collectible and they have had a huge leap in business since then, so I am sure that number has grown significantly since.
  • For perspective, despite the brief shutdown and delays due to the virus, PSA reported that general period still managed to be the busiest they have ever had.

If you want more details on how PSA is doing there are specifics available online including revenue reports and more!

Before moving to the next section I feel the need to say that some of the same themes below were covered in my CGC article. They were about a different company and I will be offering up some additional and different information here, but I recommend checking that article out if you haven’t! Even if you don’t have interest in CGC itself, it will still have some helpful and interesting information.

Additionally, I just wanted to mention that I am in no way affiliated with PSA nor am I here to convince you to grade cards with them. I think every company has good and bad things going for them – this article is more just an introduction to PSA grading. In full disclosure, I have hundreds of cards at both PSA and CGC now.

Why Grade your Pokemon Cards?

There are a few reasons as to why grading your cards would be beneficial, but those reasons tend to fall under two plans for what you will do with the cards once they are graded. This section is broken up into those two sections and I will cover the question above in detail throughout them.

There are also further decisions you need to make in the grading process and those are dependent on which of these two avenues you are going down. I am sure you will see what I mean.

Grading for Profit

This section is going to cover the act of grading cards to then sell them, which is a popular choice nowadays.

When you grade a card, its value tends to increase if it gets a good grade. This is because the condition and the authenticity of the card has now been proven and the customer would not have to go through the trouble of grading the card themselves. A card receiving a good grade generally means a 9 or 10 through PSA if you are looking for a large price increase, but even grades lower than that can demand a premium. This is especially true for cards that were already expensive prior to grading them, such as a first edition Base Set Charizard.

So, when you are grading cards to sell them for profit, there are a few things to consider. I am just going to list those prior to diving into some deeper analysis:

  • Turnaround timeHow long can you afford to wait for the cards to come back from PSA?
  • CostHow much can you afford to pay to get the cards graded?
  • Trajectory of the cardsDo you see the value of the cards you want to grade changing severely soon?

Cost and turnaround time are very much intertwined, as if you want to save money, it means a longer turnaround time and if you want a faster turnaround time, it means spending more money.

Trajectory of the cards ties into this decision as well because the expected price could change the time in which you want to sell the card, which could change when you need to have it back. This is not always the easiest thing to determine and does not apply to all cards, but there are times where you can be confident a price change is going to occur. For example, if you think you just got a great deal on a reasonably expensive card, but you expect the price to decrease before you get it back if you send it off via a lower service level, it is likely a good idea to just have it graded under a higher service level. This way you can sell the card faster, hopefully avoiding the price decrease you expected. In this process, you at the very least get your capital back much faster, even if you were wrong about your projection or failed to capitalize on it.

The same consideration should be made when dealing with an expected price increase, but that can go one of two ways. If you expect the price to increase in the very near future, but not continue to do so over time, you can treat it the same as the example I posted above. This way you can attempt to benefit from that price increase and get your capital back faster.

However, if you expect a card to steadily increase over the next few months or throughout a year, the situation can be handled differently. If you expect a card to sell for more soon, there is no reason to rush the process of having it graded. You would either be paying more to have it graded just to have it back and not do anything with it or you would be doing such so that you could get it back and then sell It prior to the potential increase. Neither of these make much sense, so let’s talk about what could be done to save some money on the front end and potentially make some extra money on the back end. If you expect a card to increase in value with time, you should probably just go with a lower service level. This means you will have a long wait ahead of you, but that’s okay, you don’t really want to sell the card yet anyways. This also means saving some money, as the lower service levels are the cheapest ones. Once you have the card back, you can sell it, hopefully at a higher price or you could even continue to wait if you believe that price is still increasing. This type of decision should be based on your personal situation though, as everyone will have different opinions and needs.

Even though the above discussion was about trajectory, the basics of opportunity cost when it comes to card gradings should be clearly outlined. The price versus turnaround time can be a tricky decision to make, but hopefully this section made it a little bit easier.

All in all, it really is personal discretion on decisions like this. There is not a perfect answer for everyone, so I recommend just looking at the options and deciding for yourself. I would factor in everything written above as well. Just as a word of advice, I would tend to play it safe, especially at the beginning and not risk leaving yourself in a vulnerable position. This may mean lower your margins by paying for a faster turnaround time, but you will still gain experience from everything and should be more comfortable in the future. Again, it is totally your choice and should be made based on your personal situation.

Grading for Collecting

This section is going to cover the act of grading cards that you will keep in your collection and why that is a good idea!

Grading cards for your personal collection can be a great idea! This is totally in the eye of the beholder, so you will have to decide this for yourself, but a lot of people believe that cards look nicer once they are graded. The case provides that extra pizzazz some people are looking for. Additionally, a graded card means a safer card, so you won’t have to worry about any of your favorites getting damaged by any accidents or general wear. There are other benefits to the grading process, such as authentication and condition confirmation, but the points above are the main ones for collectors. I am sure there are other things some collectors might consider and that is totally fine!

Time to talk about the process of grading cards for your collection. You will learn about the actual act later, but the thoughts below might help you make a crucial decision.

I will say that this avenue prevents a much simpler decision to make, as you do not have to worry about crunching the numbers to make a profit. You also don’t have to worry about any price changes, you just get to admire the amazing art that a lot of Pokemon cards provide.

The turnaround time and cost entanglement are still very much present here, though and that is the decision that you will have to make. Luckily, it is entirely a personal one. Once you have picked your grading company, which is a large part of grading cards to have in your collection, since the look of the slab means a ton, you will have to select the turnaround time you want to go with.

If you are impatient and don’t mind spending the additional money, you can have them graded under a faster service level, saving you the stress of having them out of your possession for months at a time.

If you are more patient or just don’t want to spend the money, there is no shame in going with a bulk service level! You will have a long wait ahead of you, but you will save some money in the process, which could help you to further expand your collection!

As explained above, this decision is entirely up to you. Honestly, so is the grading for profit decision, but that does have some elements in which others can provide some further guidance on. In either case, but especially when grading cards for your personal collection, just make the decision that you are most comfortable with.

How to Submit to PSA

So, there are actually a few options here.

For starters, a common misconception is that a membership is required to submit cards to PSA, this is simply not true. Having a membership allows you access to additional service levels, “bulk” options and the monthly specials. Bulk service levels are where you submit many cards, currently a minimum of twenty and pay a low price in exchange for a very long wait. For context, my earliest one of these still at PSA is from June and I have no expectation of receiving it back any time soon. The bulk service level is still a great thing to utilize, as it does let you submit cards at a lower cost. As for the monthly specials, most of the time they are not going to benefit you at all. This is because they are based on a quarterly rotating system and they often don’t involve Pokemon, meaning that they would not be of use. They always benefit someone out there, which is great for grading, but that someone is not always you.

Without a membership, you still have access to all the faster and more expensive of course, service levels. This means you can submit your cards, monitor their progress and have full control over the entire experience without paying the yearly membership fee. If you are not going to take advantage of some of the lower service levels, there is no reason to pay the membership and doing this is a fine option.

Now, for the less direct route, there are a lot of third-party companies/individuals that offer a middleman service to submit your cards for you. Doing this can save you some money and sometimes result in your cards being returned in a quicker manner, along with giving you access to all the service levels without having a membership. I must issue a word of caution, do not trust just anyone to do this for you, as you have very little control over the process once you ship off your cards. The most trusted middleman service out there is Ludkin’s Collectibles and I have submitted with them myself. The North American representative for this service is Charlie Hurlocker, a recognized collector in the hobby and he could not be more of a stand-up person. He works relentlessly to improve the experience for people who submit cards and is a pleasure to do business with. If you have any questions about submitting through Ludkin’s, I am sure he would be happy to answer them.

Pros and Cons of PSA (As Opposed to a Different Service)

The fact of the matter is that each grading company has things that are appealing to them, along with things that are not as great as they could be. In this section, I am going to look at what PSA does well, along with things they could improve on. Overall, they do a great job, but no one is perfect.

I am sure there are other things people consider when deciding where to grade, but these are the main factors in my mind:

Pros

  • Large amount of available price data and sales history
  • Price recognition
  • Established company in the hobby
  • Preferred grading company by many

Cons

  • Slightly pricier in comparison to other services
  • Long wait for submission return due to the company being backed up

Additional Information

PSA has other things that can be useful to utilize, mainly the population report that they have, but I wanted to keep things focused on helpful information for less experienced graders. Hopefully, the links above can help make things simpler if this is something that interests you!

I hope that you all enjoyed the read and found some value in this article. I tried my best to include as much information as possible, so that anyone you decided to submit could do so. I did the same in my last grading article, check it out if you haven’t. I will eventually be releasing an article on BGS – the final grading company competitor now – keep an eye out for that! As far as other future topics go, I do have some in mind, but I am always looking for suggestions. I would love to cover things that the readers specifically request, so if you have anything you’d like to recommend, feel free to drop a comment below. Other than that, I will be back next week with another article and later in the month with more content as well. I hope you all have had a great beginning of the New Year, enjoy the world of Pokemon in between my articles.

Peace!

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