When collectors look through the many graded cards for sale they will often see PSA, BGS and other initials in the card description. These are the grading companies that collectors use to give an expert opinion on a card's condition.
Professional Sports Authenticator, or PSA, will authenticate and grade cards as well as game-used items like baseball bats and gloves and other memorabilia. The first thing that happens when the card is evaluated by PSA is they make sure it is the real thing. PSA examines the card to see that it isn't counterfeit or has been confused with a similar card, as the card companies do put out reprints that are close to the originals. PSA then says they check for “doctoring”, which is when someone has tried to hide a blemish on the card. Some people try to color over the edge of the card to hide wear while others will cut a card along one side to make it look like the card has better centering or to hide wear.
To grade the card, PSA checks all aspects of its condition. The centering, the corners and edges, the surface of the card, any creases, these and other areas of the card are evaluated and a numerical grade is given to the card. The card is then locked in a plastic holder, so when collectors look to buy the graded card they will know they have the exact card that was graded. For most collectors, or even groups of collectors, it makes sense to send cards in bulk to PSA. Sending one card to be graded costs around $17, while the bulk service is cheaper but you must be a Collectors Club member to utilize that service. Annual memberships start at around $100 but come with a few goodies and some free vouchers.
PSA will also authenticate and grade unopened packs. If there is one thing collectors are never certain about it is whether a vintage pack has been carefully opened and resealed, with good cards taken out and cheaper cards put in it. PSA will give their expert opinion that the pack has never been opened, so the resale value should be much better as possible buyers will bid high if they think there is a chance to get a mint star or rookie card and not a bunch of commons.
Beckett has several different options for grading. There is BGS and BVG, and several other services. Beckett Grading Services, BGS, is for newer cards and Beckett Vintage Grading, BVG, is for cards made before 1981. Beckett has various options for the cost of the grading, depending on how many cards are sent in and how soon the collector needs them.
Collectors often have a hard time figuring out what company to use. PSA is popular with vintage card collectors, and the Beckett card magazines are often focused on new cards so collectors of current players do often choose Beckett for grading. SGC, Sportscard Guaranty, is another option and they grade everything from today's cards to sports cards from the 19th century.
When choosing a grading company, it makes sense to research the prices their graded cards sell for and to use the one that is best for your specific card while also keeping the company’s pricing structure in mind.