Should I get my cards graded? Our guide to the process

If you've never had anything graded, the process can be intimidating. Cllct is here to walk you through it

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Even Hall of Fame rookies aren't always worth getting graded.

Maybe you found a shoebox of cards in the attic and want to know what it's worth. Maybe you've collected for decades, and your best stuff is in binders or screw-downs. Maybe you've got one grail, and you're dreaming that it's a 10.

Figuring out whether to grade a card is a big issue for novice collectors. Grade a card that isn’t worth it, and you might be paying more to grade it than it's worth.

And if you've never done it, the grading process can be a bit intimidating.

Here are some basic tips from the cllct team to give everyone, including beginners, the confidence to authenticate and grade their collection.

Let's start with the basics:

What card do you have?

Make sure you know what card you are holding. If it looks like an old card, make sure there are no markings of it being an obvious reprint. You need to know the year, the maker, the set and you should note what the card number is (check the back of the card).

Questions to answer: Is it a base card or a more rare card, like a parallel or an insert? More valuable modern cards might be serial numbered or feature unique, flashier colors or designs.

What grade do you think your card is?

The higher the grade, the more valuable the card; regardless of whether you're looking at Hall of Famer rookie or a modern prospect.

Here are the standards, according to card grader PSA.

10. Gem Mint. Nicely centered. Corners sharp. Perfection

9. Mint. Well-centered. Slight imperfection.

8. Near Mint-Mint. Allowance for slightly off-color on white, minimal wear on corners.

7. Near Mint. Very minimal surface wear. Small staining on back. Wear on corners more noticeable.

6. Excellent-Mint. Possible scratch. Wear on corners now can’t be missed. Loss of card gloss.

5. Excellent. Corners rounded. Picture on card might be slightly out of focus (vintage). More discoloration.

4. Very Good-Excellent. Corners noticeably rounded along with discoloration.

3. Very Good. On vintage cards, gloss is gone. Visible crease possible.

2. Good. Marked by staining, scuffing and scratching.

1. Poor. Corners rounded. Card off center. Recognized as damaged in some way..

Authentic. From PSA: “This card is real and nothing more.”

What are your intentions?

This is an important, but overlooked, question to answer. What do you want to do with this card? Do you want to keep it or sell it? Do you want to make sure it’s better protected?

If you find out, it’s not worth that much money (see next question), you have a choice to make. If you are going to sell it, know this, grading gives collectors confidence to buy something.

When I was a young collector, we would go around to card shows and guess if the dealer’s description of mint was really accurate. Although people criticize the graders for inconsistencies, it’s a hell of a lot more consistent than the guesses of the 1980s.

So, if you are going to sell, you almost have to grade — unless you are willing to take a haircut just to make immediate cash.

How much is your card worth?

This is the step many people don’t know how to get to, and it’s fairly easy. No, your card is not worth what someone is trying to sell it for on eBay. But the best indicator is, what someone has recently sold it for.

In order to search cards that have frequent volume of sales (at least one to two of them sell per week), you can go to eBay’s advanced search, type in your card with as much specifics as possible (as noted above) and make sure the “sold items” and “completed items” boxes are checked.

You now know how much someone paid for it recently, which is its true market value — and much more accurate than the price guides of yesteryear.

Another helpful tool to look up the market value of your card is to go to 130Point scrapes data from eBay and auction houses and displays more sales of your card. It also displays the true price paid when someone makes an offer. eBay, for some reason, does not do this.

How much will it cost to grade your card?

Let’s stick with PSA here. The first question you need to ask is, how fast do I need to get my card back? If your card is worth less than $500, you can get the card graded for $25 as long as you are willing to wait two months (value-level grading). It costs $40 if you want it back in a little more than a month (value-plus grading).

If you want your card in two weeks, you can do regular-level grading for $75 for cards up to $1,500 in value. Finally, a week’s turnaround time (eligible up to $2,500 in value) is $130 (express service).

If you card is worth more, and you want it just as fast, you can get your card, worth up to $5,000, in a week for $500 (super express). Cards that cost more than $5,000, and less than $10,000, must at least use the walkthrough price of $500 with still a week turnaround time.

In between $10,000 and $25,000, must use Premium 1, which gets you the card back in a week for $800 and it goes up from there.

Can you give some practical examples?

OK, I’m going to focus on here on two cards that came out in 1986. Why? Because there are a lot of people who were into cards as a kid, who are now in their mid-40s and just trying to find if they have anything worthwhile.

We’re going to go with both sides of the spectrum — a card that is absolutely worth grading and a card that isn’t.

Let’s first start with the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan No. 57 card.

In the case of Michael Jordan's 1986 Fleer rookie card, a PSA 10 rating can be worth 10 times (or even more) than a PSA 9. (Credit: eBay)
In the case of Michael Jordan's 1986 Fleer rookie card, a PSA 10 rating can be worth 10 times (or even more) than a PSA 9. (Credit: eBay)

Here are the most recent prices at each grade.

Authentic: $1,800

1: $1,900

2: $2,215

3: $2,658

4: $3,300

5: $3,400

6: $3,700

7: $4.900

8: $6,600

9: $15,000

10: $168,000

As you can see, you can’t lose money grading this card. That’s not the case with the 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco Rated Rookie, which was a huge prize in 1986 for those of us who were collecting.

7: $22

8: $40

9: $65

10: $370

In this case, unless you are sure you are getting a PSA 10, it’s not worth grading a 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco to sell. If you want it slabbed because it was your childhood card, go ahead and have fun.

Nostalgia means something too!

Darren Rovell is the founder of and one of the country's leading reporters on the collectible market. He previously worked for ESPN, CNBC and The Action Network.