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Should You Buy Graded Or Raw Sports Cards

raw salmon fillets on wooden cutting board

Graded cards demand a premium, and almost every collector prefers them over raw. But there is more to the question: should you buy graded or raw sports cards.

That said, there’s a question built into this statement: how should you get your cards graded? Is it better to buy graded cards, or will you profit more if you buy raw and send the cards in for grading yourself?

This post will look at the differences in value between different grades and companies as we develop an optimal approach for grading cards.

Graded Or Raw Sports Cards: A Comparison

To start, we need some numbers. Here’s the average selling price of a mix of cards based on grades. The cards selected here are a mix of sports, brand prestige, and age (although they’re all printed within the last decade.

A Trae Young PSA 10 goes for six times the price of a raw (buy Trae Young rookies on eBay).

Here are the numbers:

Card 8 PSA 9 PSA 10 PSA 8 BGS  9 BGS  10 BGS Raw
Trae Young Hoops Rookie 35 45 90 30 55 280 15
Lamar Jackson Optic Rookie 40 88 300 30 76 520 50
Josh Allen Donruss Rookie 45 100 260 33 73 565 50
Luka Prizm Rookie 215 300 850 180 265 6000 200
Mike Trout Update Rookie 850 1,500 3,100 650 1,000 12,600 800
LeBron Topps Chrome Rookie 2,300 4,500 17,000 1,825 3,649 28,200 1800
Tatis Topps Rookie 50 80 200 45 65 370 28
Mahomes Prizm Rookie 1,200 2,000 5,000 850 1,675 800
Average $591 $1,073 $2,680 $455 $765 $6,933 $467

Understanding The Value of Different Grades

A lot is going on with the table, so let’s unpack it a bit and see what we can learn.

YouTube video

Takeaway 1: PSA Is More Valuable Than BGS Overall

When you compare PSA to BGS, equal grades typically sell for more in a PSA than in a BGS. Why is that? Beckett is naturally a tougher grader, and their color-coded slabs are more aesthetically pleasing, so it would make sense for BGS to sell for more.

However, collector’s still preferred PSA because of proven success and because PSA came first.  With that in mind, note that the average PSA 9 sold for $1,073 while the average BGS 9 only did $765—that’s a 30 percent difference for the same grade!

BGS black label 10s are worth more than PSA 10s. (look for black label cards on eBay).

Takeaway 2: Unless Your Card Is A 10

Here’s the catch: if your card has a chance at a 10, then it could be worth it to roll the dice on a BGS grade. BGS 10s sold for 2.5x more than PSA 10s, according to our sample. That’s a significant difference. Sure, a $30,000 LeBron helped boost the total, but the numbers don’t lie. Across the board, the BGS 10s are significantly more valuable. However, keep in mind that BGS 10’s are rare and harder to get than PSA 10’s.

Takeaway 3: Don’t Forget The Half-Grades!

With a look at this table, it might seem like it only makes sense to grade with PSA if you’re trying to get the most value out of your card. That said, BGS offers half-grades (an 8.5 and 9.5, for example), compared to PSA only using whole numbers.

Because of this, there’s an entire category of cards that are not shown on the chart. For example, the BGS 9.5s usually sell between the price of a PSA 9 and PSA 10, falling closer to the price of a PSA 9.

BGS 9.5 tend to sell for more than PSA 9s, but not much more (look for LaMelo Ball BGS graded cards on eBay).

Takeaway 4: Don’t Send Near-Mint Cards To BGS

One of the most surprising takeaways was that a Beckett 8 was worth less than the raw card. This shows that modern cards are expected to be somewhere around a 9, and it also means if you have doubts about how well your card will grade, BGS probably isn’t the service for you.

What Graded Cards To Buy

The number one rule is that graded cards are always preferable for high-dollar cards that are commonly forged. There would be nothing worse than buying a raw Jordan or LeBron rookie to find out that it’s a fake… $5,000 later. A card graded by PSA or BGS is stamped with the company’s approval of its authenticity, so it is less likely to be forged. However, fake slabs are also a problem in the hobby.

Other than that, decided whether to buy graded or raw cards comes down to how much risk you want to assume. For example, you can buy a PSA 10 for a premium or buy raw cards and hope to score a PSA 10.

Buying raw and grading can be highly rewarding (look for raw rookie lots on eBay).

What Cards To Buy Raw

With modern cards, buying raw and paying to get it graded is a popular approach. First, we’ll look at why.

But first, here are a couple of assumptions to make. PSA’s $20 service is currently postponed due to its backlog, and BGS’s economy service is inflated to $35. For the sake of this argument, let’s assume it costs $20 to grade a card.

With that in mind, back to the numbers:

Looking at the selling prices for the PSA 10s compared to the raw cards, you could buy 2 or 4 raw cards to get them graded for the cost of one PSA 10 of the more high-end cards.  If you shop around and message the seller with questions about the condition, it shouldn’t be impossible to find a PSA 10 in a handful of attempts.

Scenarios For Buying Graded Or Raw Sports Cards

Here’s a hypothetical: You want a PSA 10 Luka Prizm Rookie

  • Situation A) You buy a PSA 10 Luka Prizm Rookie.
    • Total Cost: $850, Total Resell Value: $850
  • Situation B) You buy three raw Luka Prizm rookies at $200 after asking the sellers for more pictures and their opinion about the condition. You grade all 3 at $20 a card. The results are a PSA 8, PSA 9, and PSA 10.
    • Total Cost: $660, Total Resell Value: $1,365

In this situation, it’s better to buy the raws and get them graded. But in that same situation, even if your grades came back 8, 9, 9, that’s an $815 resell value, so you still make money.

As noted above, it’s also fair to assume most modern cards should grade at around a PSA 9 unless they have surface damage, so if you ask enough questions (while being polite and not annoying), you should be able to find some PSA 9s—and even some 10s—just waiting to be submitted.

If you grade raw, a PSA 9 Luka can still make you money (look for Luka Prizm PSA 9s on eBay).

Bottomline On Buying Graded Or Raw Sports Cards

Personally, my most recent PSA submission was 27 cards that I’d bought in the same fashion, and 13 of them came back as 10s. So that’s almost 50%, and while that’s a one-off example, there is a lot more money to be made that way than if I were to buy those 13 cards in PSA 10 form.

Whether you buy graded or raw is totally up to you, but consider these numbers before making your next slabbed purchase.

Jesse Haynes

Jesse Haynes

Jesse Haynes is the co-founder of Solaro Shades, an Amazon #1 Bestselling novelist, and a lifelong sports card collector. His nonfiction work has been featured in Forbes, Inc., MarketWatch and more. At CardLines, Jesse’s specialties are basketball and football cards, not to mention making informative video and Instagram content.
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