Define Dividends | Taxation Of Dividends | What Is a Dividend?

Last Updated on January 12, 2022

What is a dividend? A dividend is a distribution of some of a company’s profits to its shareholders, as decided by the board of directors. How do dividends define?

Dividend-paying companies typically accept common stockholders who own their shares before the ex-dividend date if they meet certain requirements.

Dividends are often paid out in the form of cash or additional stock. Some companies issue additional stock shares to current shareholders to reduce the price of each share, thus making them more affordable.

Defining dividends
Defining dividends


  • A dividend is a payment made by a company to its qualified shareholders.
  • The board of directors determines how much and when dividends are paid.
  • Dividends are payments given out by publicly listed corporations to thank investors for putting their money into the venture.
  • When companies pay dividends, they generally boost or decrease the value of their stock in proportion to the amount paid out.
  • Many firms do not pay dividends but rather retain earnings to be reinvested back into the company.

Defining the concept of dividends

A dividend is a distribution of some of a company’s earnings to its shareholders, usually made on an annual basis.

According to the corporation’s bylaws, the shareholders may be entitled to all or part of it.

It represents payment for owning shares in the company and can often be used by investors to indicate that the business is profitable.

Defining the usage of dividends

Dividends are used in stock investment contracts, which state their payment terms when issued at their creation. Investors buy 401(k)s and mutual funds expecting dividends over time instead of capital gains from investments.

They are taxed much more favorably if paid out over time than in one lump sum during liquidation events such as death or retirement. They are also known as gilt-edged securities due to the guarantee of their dividend.

For many investors, dividends represent a significant portion of investment returns, and such investments may be valued for this reason alone.

Example of a dividend “investment” return

For example:

An investor was initially satisfied with a dividend yield of 2% at purchase and received subsequent dividend increases that further increased that payout by 3% per annum upon each payment (and assuming only 3% growth in the share price).

After ten years, they would receive 12.5% (0.03 x 0.03 x 100) on their initial investment from being paid out of its earnings simply for owning shares in the firm through those years while also realizing a total return from share price appreciation of 10.

In other words, half of the investor’s total return would be in the form of cash dividends, assuming that they were not reinvested into additional shares (which would increase their ownership share in the company and future cash dividends), even before considering appreciation in the share price.

How are dividends paid?

Dividends are often paid out in the form of cash or additional stock.

Some companies issue additional stock shares to current shareholders to reduce the price of each share, thus making them more affordable.

Preferred stocks

Preferred stocks usually do not pay dividends but offer a fixed dividend payment each period.

This is generally because preferred stocks prioritize creditors over equity holders, giving them guaranteed access to liquidation proceeds ahead of shareholders if the corporation becomes insolvent.


Another way companies may choose to pay dividends is with securities that have been retired by an older business or a different corporation due to the difficulty of selling them on the open market.

These shares are called “treasury stock” and can be reissued if a company feels that it is in their best interest financially to do so.

Anticipation of dividend payments

Dividend payments can at times be anticipated, and these anticipated dividends can affect trading and pricing in securities and currency markets, especially those with dividend-paying stocks, sectors, or commodities.

For instance, if a person purchases shares in a company with an upcoming dividend payment but does not manage to sell them before the date on which the payment is made (and only afterward realizes their value has increased by some amount).

Example #1

In this case, such a person could avail of certain tax benefits for the early realization of a capital gain.

The tax benefit would equal the amount by which the value has increased less any costs of selling the shares (commissions, taxes, etc.) and any taxes due from receipt of the dividend payment itself.

One example is Swedish company Ericsson’s announcement that it will pay 5 February 2015 as a dividend payment date concerning 2014 distributions.

In that sense, many investors anticipate this dividend payment and place their trades in anticipation of such an event.

This is done to realize some gains, as there may not be another opportunity until later in 2015 or even 2016 under certain circumstances.

This particular trading strategy also takes advantage of the fact that dividends affect share prices and share value.

Example #2

Another example is the anticipated quarterly dividend payments that Apple Inc. made for their shareholders during their 7-to-1 stock split in 2014.

During such events, Apple’s stock price appreciated nearly 30% over the two trading days following the announcement of their first and second dividends before closing at a 24% discount compared to pre-split prices.

By contrast, shares of Apple were trading at a significant premium—as much as 38% higher than post-split prices—in anticipation of the company’s third and fourth quarter dividend announcements, after which they closed near 10% below pre-split levels. This grew to as much as 41% by year-end 2013.

Defining dividends
Defining dividends

Taxation of dividends

Dividends received from investments are usually taxable for both federal income tax and state income tax purposes, though they may also sometimes be non-taxable.

In many jurisdictions, special tax rules apply to dividends received by individuals as “investors.”

Dividends paid from current or accumulated earnings of a corporation will first increase the income of those who have direct ownership of those shares/stock certificates before any dividend distribution is made to other shareholders such as other corporations or institutions.

For example, a shareholder’s personal tax rate will usually be applied to their dividends from those shares.

Shares ownership | The beneficial owner concept

In the case of share ownership, a shareholder is a beneficial owner. They have a direct interest in the company’s dividend payments through share rights and may also benefit from increases in the value of those shares.

In contrast, if a person holds similar debt instruments such as bonds issued by a firm, they are entitled to any interest paid on them but not the right to receive any future income or gain from their issuer unless explicitly contracted within the terms of issuance.

In some countries, tax treaties provide relief for double taxation of corporate earnings at the individual level.

For example, an individual who purchases corporate stock that pays dividends may be taxed on those dividends but exempt from tax on capital gains from the increase in value of those shares. In contrast, a person who holds corporate bonds (debt instruments) may be taxed only on any interest earned and not on subsequent bond price increases.

Entitlement of shareholders to dividends

A shareholder is entitled to dividends that the board of directors has declared, but such entitlement depends on the legal organization chosen when establishing a corporation or company.

For example, some forms of companies (such as close corporations) may restrict dividends only to company members and/or require shareholders’ approval for dividend declarations.

In addition, many companies have a policy against declaring dividends unless they are either highly profitable or certain that doing so will not trigger a cash crisis.

This cash-dividend policy is meant to protect a company’s long-term survival because it ensures that they always have the cash to pay employees and suppliers and the expenses associated with doing business.

Defining qualified dividends

The term “qualified dividends” refers to any ordinary dividend that satisfies certain requirements.

A qualified dividend is a type of distribution from a corporation or a mutual fund made to shareholders that are taxed at the capital gains rate, which depends on the individual’s tax bracket.

It must meet several criteria, including being an ordinary dividend and not a short-term capital gain.

It should be noted here that there are special rules for determining whether or not any particular payment constitutes a “qualified dividend.”

For example, payments designated as being “interest” rather than dividends would generally not qualify as such; nor would those paid out by foreign corporations (which includes foreign governments, foreign civic or political subdivisions, and international organizations) or U.S.-based entities engaged in the active conduct of a banking, financing or similar business.

Taxation on qualified dividends

Taxation on qualified dividends follows specific rates based on one’s tax bracket.

In 2014 this would mean that qualified dividend income from investments held for more than 60 days would fall into either the 10%, 15%, or 20% tax brackets depending on one’s taxable income from all sources.

This is approximately half the corresponding marginal ordinary income tax rates of the investor’s assessable federal income tax rate except where they result in a lower effective rate on such investment—as some may if their total assessment includes foreign-source dividends and capital gains.

There are certain limitations on qualified dividends in getting taxed at long-term capital gains rates.

For example, one cannot have had any active business service as an employee in the corporation paying the dividend within two years before this payment or being a 10% shareholder.

Similarly, mutual funds would need to pass requirements similar to those imposed on individual stocks for their distributions to qualify as eligible for long-term capital gains treatment.

This is called the qualifying income test, which requires that more than 50% of its gross income consists of dividends, interest, or capital gains from investments held for at least 60 days before corporations can distribute them.

Defining dividends in accounting terms

“Dividends in accounting” is the term used to refer to any distribution made by a company, whether in cash or other assets, which are paid out to shareholders.

This can include both dividends payable under normal conditions and special dividends that are not subject to normal conditions.

For example, special dividends may be given during intense competition when it becomes necessary for the company to offer such payments to remain competitive and keep its customers from moving their business elsewhere.

These might also occur due to financial difficulties experienced by the firm which cannot be overcome without setting aside funds for this purpose—such as merger or acquisition opportunities being passed up, technological innovation taking longer than anticipated, insufficient capitalization because management fails to raise additional capital or other similar reasons.

Whether or not such conditions exist, the company’s board of directors has discretion over whether to declare dividends and how much to pay out—although it may need shareholder approval for specific plans such as a special dividend.

This is because corporate by-laws restrict actions such as declaring and paying dividends unless certain requirements are met —this might include majority shareholder consent or even an absolute requirement that any dividend payment can only be made out of profits earned since the last distribution was paid.

This effectively means that companies have “no legal obligation” to pay these amounts. So they can choose to reduce them or suspend altogether if their own financial status changes for the worse despite expectations that previously existed when shareholders consented to such distributions being made.

For example, consider a company that has declared dividends for $20 per share on common stock outstanding every quarter over the past ten years.

If it fails to declare any for the next two quarters, there is no requirement for them to do so despite this being part of its past business practice with shareholders, which was effectively agreed upon when they accepted their shares in exchange for establishing this pattern under normal conditions—which are what most people would expect when purchasing securities.

However, if these amounts are not paid at all during this year—or only half of them are—investors will likely view this as a signal that something is amiss even though they have no legal right to complain about it.

Their main option then is to sell their shares on the market since the company’s management team has made it clear by its actions that they are unwilling or unable to provide these benefits, which helped make this investment attractive in the first place.

In contrast, if a company is unable to pay dividends out of its own funds due to financial difficulties but still wants to continue making them despite this—since this would be a strong signal that there is at least a chance the company could resume them in the future once these problems have been overcome—there may be ways for them to do so.

For example, some companies have set up financing arms to borrow money from banks and other financial institutions on terms allowing them to repay it with cash from their operations after paying interest on it—or by selling additional shares in exchange for cash.

In this case, the dividends paid could be structured as “interest” on these loans with the amount set according to a fixed formula that includes an interest rate plus a specific percentage of the company’s net profits—with this being enough to allow them to declare and pay dividends even when they have no funds available from their own operations.

As long as shareholders understand all of this ahead of time, there is usually little objection since it does not change how much or how frequently their dividends are paid out or what they are used for.

While it is possible companies might use such methods to extract more money than they otherwise would if their existence was left up to normal business operations, this should only be done when circumstances make this necessary for survival—and is likely to be less costly in the long run if they are successful in eliminating these financial problems that otherwise might have led to bankruptcy or some other major setback.

For example, consider a situation involving a company with 250 million shares outstanding that cannot pay dividends due to its difficulties but have assets on hand of $50 million. In comparison, its debt totals $100 million.

If it suspends all dividends for one year at the same time as restructuring its debt so it can be repaid over three years—while also allowing new investors to buy an additional 100 million new shares at half their current price—this could instantly reduce the cost of capital by more than 40% while still allowing new investments into the company to take place.

If these were used instead of paying dividends, they would allow the company to continue making dividend payments at their current rate—which might require them to borrow more money on less favorable terms but hopefully not by a larger amount than what had been paid out before the policy change.

Assuming this was done wisely allowed them to emerge from their difficulties within three years. They could start paying dividends again with enough left over that future increases in dividends could be possible without taking on additional debt each time this occurred if this is seen as being preferable to selling new stock.

The main reason for outlining this potential alternative approach here is not to insist it should be used if companies are otherwise able to continue giving shareholders the same level or more of dividends through their operations—as there is no reason why they shouldn’t pay as much as they can if doing so will not cause them problems in the future.

In fact, this would be one way to compensate those who choose to forgo dividend income while allowing those who want it to receive it rather than forcing them to sell stock or other assets or borrow from others at terms that make a difficult situation even worse.

Rather, the main purpose of mentioning all of this is to encourage companies and their shareholders to carefully consider what happens when a company starts having difficulty paying dividends because these should only be eliminated when survival itself depends on making such a change.

When this occurs, taking care of how you handle things now could lead to better results for everyone in the long run—in which case we can always hope is something we will never need to do.

Although this might lead some people to suggest such maneuvers should be prohibited, keeping these possibilities open seems likely to allow companies and their shareholders to work together more effectively when encountering difficult situations that could threaten their survival.

If nothing else, these examples at least provide an interesting way of looking at how dividends are paid and what happens when they can no longer be made during times of financial trouble.

Defining dividends
Defining dividends

Defining stock market dividends

This is where the company gives part of its earnings to shareholders in dividends.

After the investor receives the dividend, he has various options like reinvesting it in stock or withdrawing it for personal use.

How do dividends work when a startup company pays them?

Startup companies usually don’t pay out dividends in the initial years. It is not that they don’t want to, but they don’t have anything to give away as dividends.

The investors invest in a company with an expectation that one day the company will mature and pay big dividends if not been taken over by someone else at a premium price which will return several times what they had invested.

Thus, the company can sell more shares at a higher valuation if it plans to pay out dividends.

If a company is mature enough to pay dividends, it can go for a direct approach or public offering if needed funds are not sufficient.

Then the investor gets their dividend at regular time intervals like quarterly or half-yearly, forming an income stream that he can use or reinvest back into stock.

Defining dividend reinvestment plan

A plan through which investors can elect to have their cash or check dividends re-invested in the purchase of common stock directly from the company at no commission charge.

The investor is responsible for all broker fees associated with this transaction.

This option is only available on dividend payments and not interest payments. Many investors will use this option to accumulate more shares in their investment by reinvesting the dividends instead of cashing them.

Defining dividends
Defining dividends


A dividend is a distribution of a portion of a company’s earnings, decided by the board of directors, to a class of its shareholders.

It can be issued as cash payments, shares of stock, or other property.

Most common stocks, especially those associated with established firms, are issued dividends;  preferred stocks generally do not pay dividends.

When you invest your money into companies that pay dividends on stock, you are investing in the traditional sense, which means that your money is being re-invested for future growth and expansion.

If you ever find yourself not needing some money back then, this would be the best time to invest it somewhere else, so this way, your money will continue growing without having to worry about it.

Keep in mind that a dividend is a distribution of a portion of a company’s earnings, decided by the board of directors, to a class of its shareholders. It can be issued as cash payments, shares of stock, or other property.

As stated before, dividends provide investors with an income stream which they may use to supplement their lifetime savings accumulated via other means.

What makes stocks such valuable assets is that they represent ownership of that specific company and thus give you the right to vote at certain corporate affairs.

As long as this trend continues, these companies will be able to remain profitable throughout any economic condition, which means that your investment has a better chance of growing over time.

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