Last Updated On: November 15th, 2023
Worried about a graded card you recently bought?
A graded card warranty (or guarantee) can be extremely important in the event you purchase a slab that has been assigned a higher condition grade than it truly deserves (aka overgraded), or at worst encapsulates a fake card that mistakenly passed as authentic.
Only two of the four major grading services offer guarantees: PSA and CGC. If you’re wondering what this means for BGS, and SGC, it’s exactly what you’d expect.
In this post, we’ll discuss whether the premier card grading services offer warranties for their work, who and what they cover in the event they do, and what it means for potentially getting your money back if you encounter a setback. We’ll also discuss several alternative grading companies and which ones offer warranties as well. Let’s get going!
Table of Contents
Overview of Card Grading
First, let’s get the basics out of the way. Card grading is a third-party service provided by companies that professionally assess the condition and authenticity of trading cards. The overall condition of the card is usually assigned on a numerical grading scale ranging from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest (Gem Mint or Pristine) and 1 being the lowest (Poor).
Most card grading companies will happily inspect sports cards like basketball, football, and baseball, along with Pokémon, or Magic: The Gathering trading cards, and other non-sports cards. Some will also evaluate the legitimacy of player autographs on cards.
Why Graded Card Warranties Matter
From the grading company’s standpoint, providing a guarantee not only protects their reputation, but it’s also good business (as in, it’s a good look for customers).
But let’s talk about the reasons why it’s important to have warranties from a collector’s standpoint. At the end of the day, the goal is to get your money back if the slabbed card you bought is considered erroneously graded, or authenticated, for whatever reason.
Fake Card Mistakenly Authenticated
Yes, a fake card can be sent for grading knowingly (by bad actors), or unknowingly, and result in a proper grade and authentication. Grading mistakes happen.
Take for example the following fake Kobe Bryant Star Rubies which was shared on Blowoutforums (note: we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are indeed fakes). It is one of several high-end counterfeits authenticated by card graders.
Now imagine if you had purchased one of those authentic slabs which encased a fake card. And who could blame you — it’s extremely hard to detect fakes without a well-trained eye. A card warranty would give you some potential recourse to compensation if the grader offers one.
Inaccurate Numerical Grade (Overgrade)
When a sports card is assigned a higher grade than it actually merits, it is considered overgraded. For example, a grading company overlooks a major flaw upon reviewing a card’s condition and scores it as Gem Mint 10 anyway.
If a collector purchased an overgraded card and detected the flaw, the card’s grade may be reviewed and lowered to reflect the true grade. In this case, a warranty could pay the difference in market value between the true grade (e.g. NM 7) and the overgrade (e.g. Gem mint 10) back to the collector.
Side note: when reholdering your slabs, grading companies like BGS will revisit the grade and provide no guarantee it will remain the same (they do not have a specific ‘reholder’ service, so proceed with caution). On the other hand, PSA does not review grades with their reholdering service unless the slab exhibits damage or tampering of any kind.
Which Major Grading Services Offer Graded Card Warranties?
As we mentioned at the top, two of the four largest card grading companies (by volume) offer financial warranties for their services: They are PSA and CGC.
Big Four Summary
|Card Grading Service||Warranty||Notes|
|PSA — Professional Sports Authenticator||Yes||Financial Guarantee|
|CGC – Certified Guaranty Company||Yes||CGC Guarantee|
|SGC – Sportscard Guaranty Corporation||No||Terms and Conditions|
|BGS – Beckett Grading Services||No||Terms of Service|
Keep reading to learn the particulars of each grading service, as there are several stipulations that come with any warranty offered.
PSA is the leader in the grading services market. As they put it, the “Authenticity and Grade Guarantee . . . is fundamental to PSA’s reputation as the leading third-party authentication and grading service.“
But how does the warranty, or in their terms, “PSA Authenticity and Grade Guarantee”, work?
Who or What Does PSA’s Warranty Cover?
PSA has a laundry list of stipulations for their financial guarantee, which can be found on their website. It’s no surprise lawyers had a hand in putting it together.
After submitting a Quality Assurance Request, PSA will happily review your card for a $25 fee plus return shipping charges. The following bullets summarize how cards qualify, and general conditions for the guarantee program.
- Qualifying cards with an active certification number that have been erroneously given the PSA grade assigned or fail PSA’s authenticity standards
- At PSA’s discretion, they may:
- buy the card from the current owner at the current market value if the card can no longer receive a numerical grade under PSA’s standards
- or, “refund the difference in value between the original PSA grade and the current PSA grade if the grade is lowered or deemed to be authentic only. In this case, the card will also be returned to the customer along with the refund for the difference in value”
- Current market value of the card is determined by PSA in its sole discretion (in part by using PSA Price Guide)
- Maximum financial reward limits apply: $250,000 per card; $500,000 lifetime
- “Proof-of-purchase must be provided as part of the valuation process”
Keep in mind the original submitter of the card (for grading) would not qualify under this program. Let’s discuss this next.
What Does PSA’s Warranty NOT Cover?
PSA is very clear about the original submitter not qualifying under the guarantee:
The Guarantee does not apply to, and cannot be utilized by, the original submitter (or the original submitter’s agents, employees, affiliates or representatives, including a group submitter or dealer) of the graded card. PSA reserves the right to investigate the relationship between the person making the PSA Guarantee request and the original submitter;
This makes sense. Imagine a crook is really good at faking cards (of high value especially) and submits them to PSA in hopes to have them authenticated with high grade scores. Then under the guarantee, they would file claims stating that the cards are inauthentic and request payment from PSA under the program. That would be a pretty silly outcome to allow.
The following bullets summarize pertinent limitations under the policy, but please read their financial guarantee for the full details:
- Typos and clerical errors do not qualify (e.g. a base card mislabeled as a refractor)
- Any card removed from its slab, and any slab that has been tampered with, or environmentally damaged (e.g. flooding or sunlight)
- Authenticity or grades of autographs (neither pack-pulled or aftermarket signed cards)
- Authenticity or grades of cards containing memorabilia pieces including jersey swatches, logo patches, game-used bat relics, etc. (if you collect RPAs, they’re not covered)
- Graded sketch cards, event tickets, wax packs/boxes, Funko Pops! and photos are all out of scope
Certified Guaranty Company offers “The CGC Guarantee“, which covers trading cards and considers some other collectibles in scope, like comic books, video games, and even home videos. As we learned above, PSA only covers sports and trading cards in its guarantee.
But CGC’s guarantee differs from PSA in other favorable ways as well.
Who or What Does CGC’s Warranty Cover?
For starters, if you suspect your card needs a double-check, CGC’s “Appearance Review” service can be used for free.
CGC is also willing to compensate the original submitter of the card assuming all stipulations — which we’ll cover next — are met. We found it a bit surprising they allow for this much latitude, but in their words:
If Owner was also the original submitter of the Collectible for certification, then the compensation, if any, will not exceed the Declared Value of the Collectible either when originally submitted for certification or when submitted for Appearance Review.
CGC’s warranty includes the following summary points, with the full details found on their website:
- CGC-certified cards deemed not genuine, or overgraded based on CGC Cards’ Grading Standards qualify
- Sports cards in Certified Sports Guaranty (CSG) holders are covered as well (note: CGC acquired CSG)
- Cards containing autographs, or pieces of jersey swatches, logo patches, game-used bat relics, etc. qualify as they are not explicitly ruled out
- At CGC’s discretion, they may:
- update the card slab to reflect the true grade and pay the difference in market value for the grade discrepancy
- or, buy the card from the submitter at the declared value, fair market value, or the amount paid by the owner when first having bought the card
- or, keep the collectible and offer the owner an equivalent, genuine collectible in its place
- Current market value of the card is determined by CGC in its sole discretion (funny they “will not be bound by the values included within any CGC Price Guide” either)
- CGC does not cap compensation amounts (per card, or lifetime)
- Must provide supporting docs., including receipts, date and amount of purchase, even potential evidence “to the effect that negotiations to reverse a prior transaction have failed”
What Does CGC’s Warranty NOT Cover?
Similar to PSA’s policy, CGC also protects itself under the following circumstances:
- Typos and clerical errors do not qualify (e.g. a base card mislabeled as a refractor)
- Any card removed from its CGC or CSG slab, and any slab that has been tampered with, or environmentally damaged (e.g. flooding or sunlight)
- Cards that are “inherently fragile collectibles where the appearance of the collectible changes or deteriorates over time” (while in the slab)
- “If a graded card contains sub-grades, those sub-grades are considered part of the assigned numeric grade of the card for purposes of the CGC Guarantee”
- Graded sketch cards, prints, and photos are out of scope
Customer agrees to return any incorrectly described item to Beckett upon request at any time, and agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Beckett and its affiliates against all losses and/or claims (including attorney’s fees) caused by the circulation or sale of a mismarked or inappropriate item or any unauthorized use of a Beckett certificate or labelBeckett Terms of Service
BGS goes a step further in section 22 titled No Warranties, stating “all Services available therein are provided on an ‘as is, where is’ basis. Beckett makes no representations or warranties express, implied or otherwise, including but not limited to: . . . .”
Similar to BGS, SGC sidesteps any accountability or guarantees by including the following in their Terms and Conditions bullet #9 (bold for emphasis by author):
9. Customer acknowledges and agrees the grading and/or authentication of items requires the exercise of individual judgment and professional opinion, which is subjective in nature, and can change from time to time. Therefore, SGC makes no warranty or representation and shall have no liability whatsoever to Customer for the grade or determination of authenticity assigned by SGC to any item.
Other Grading Companies
New grading companies appear out of the woodwork every few years. It’s no surprise most of them do not offer warranties for their work as they have relatively small operations. Heck, if BGS and SGC have ignored warranties for this long, what’s a smaller company to do? Especially if they’re competing on price as their primary selling point.
The following table organizes multiple up-and-coming services and whether they have warranty information published. We’ve also included KSA, and ISA, which have been around since 1996, and 2010, respectively:
|Card Grading Service||Warranty||Notes|
|HGA – Hybrid Grading Approach||No||Terms and Conditions (PDF)|
|KSA Certification||No||Terms of Service|
|ISA – International Sports Authentication||No||Submission Terms (expand accordion)|
|TAG – Technical Authentication & Grading||Yes||Authenticity Guarantee Terms|
|RCG – Revolution Card Grading||No||No Terms and Service found, Fulfillment Policy only|
|Arena Club||Yes||Answered via support thread|
|Rare Edition||No||Terms and Conditions|
What About Defunct Grading Companies?
We’ve included this section for completeness. Obviously any grading company that has closed down or filed for bankruptcy will not have any guarantee in place.
One example is BCCG, which was once a brand under the umbrella of Beckett’s grading services. Their slabs can still be found for sale on eBay and other online marketplaces. Given BGS itself doesn’t offer a warranty, BCCG likely wouldn’t have bothered anyway. Just keep this in mind in case you purchase any BCCG 10’s out in the wild.
Earlier we had also noted the fact that CGC had acquired CSG (Certified Sports Guaranty). They’re not defunct, but cease to exist as a brand as they roll up under the CGC brand instead. Fortunately CGC did the right thing by also guaranteeing sports cards graded under the CSG brand as part of their acquisition.
There are many reasons to consider when choosing a company to grade your trading cards: reputation, price-point, customer service, and overall value (of the service and of the cards’ resale value) to name a few.
Collectors never mention whether a warranty is available as a reason for having cards graded through a particular company. This is likely because it’s the buyers of sports cards that benefit from them most of the time. With a warranty, buyers have recourse for compensation in the event they buy a card that was accidentally overgraded, or buy a fake card that was accidentally authenticated.
The availability of a warranty should instill trust and confidence with a grading service. The lack of one could have an opposite effect and ultimately impact the overall value of a company’s graded card slabs in the marketplace.
Historical sales data shows us comparable BGS grades tend to significantly underperform their PSA counterparts by a wide margin. Is the market telling us it lacks trust for BGS grades? Hard to say exactly. But as we know now, of the big four graders, BGS and SGC do not guarantee grades. On the other hand, PSA and CGC can be relied upon given their guarantees.
Hopefully this post has provided some color in the unfortunate event you need to tap a warranty from the big boy graders. Or perhaps it tilts your next grading decision to choose a company with a guarantee for their services, even if it’s not a well known name.