Unlocking Financial Gains: A Comprehensive Guide to Cash Dividends


Cash dividends are periodic payments made by a corporation to its shareholders in the form of money, as opposed to stocks or other forms of value. They are typically distributed from a company’s current earnings or accumulated profits. This article explains what cash dividends are, how they work, their timing, which companies pay them, and how they are accounted for. We also provide a real-world example from Nike and touch on related topics such as stock dividends, special dividends, and dividend aristocrats.

What is a cash dividend?

A cash dividend is a form of payment made by a company to its stockholders, usually as part of its current earnings or accumulated profits. Unlike stock dividends or other value-based payments, cash dividends are distributed directly in money. Most brokerage platforms offer shareholders the choice to either reinvest these dividends or receive them as cash.

How a cash dividend works

Cash dividends are a common method for companies to return capital to their shareholders through periodic cash payments, often on a quarterly basis, although some stocks may pay them monthly, annually, or semiannually.

While many companies pay regular dividends, there are special cash dividends that are distributed to shareholders following specific nonrecurring events, such as legal settlements or large, one-time cash distributions. Each company establishes its dividend policy and periodically assesses whether a dividend cut or increase is necessary. Cash dividends are typically paid on a per-share basis.

The timing of cash dividends

A company’s board of directors announces a cash dividend on a declaration date, specifying the amount of money to be paid per common share. After this announcement, a record date is set, determining the shareholders who are eligible to receive the payment.

Additionally, stock exchanges or relevant securities organizations set an ex-dividend date, usually two business days before the record date. Investors who purchase common shares before the ex-dividend date are entitled to the declared cash dividend.

It’s important to note that dividend earnings must be reported and are taxable as income for the recipients. The IRS provides Form 1099-DIV, which lists the total amount of reportable dividend earnings.

Which companies pay dividends?

Companies that regularly pay dividends generally have stable cash flows and are typically beyond the growth stage of their development. This explains why growth-oriented firms often do not pay dividends; they reinvest their funds to expand their operations, build infrastructure, and expand their workforce.

Some dividend-paying companies may establish dividend payout targets based on their annual profits. For instance, banks often pay out a specific percentage of their profits as cash dividends. If a company’s profits decline, it may amend or postpone its dividend policy.

Accounting for cash dividends

When a corporation declares a dividend, it records this action by debiting its retained earnings and crediting a liability account called “dividend payable.” Upon the payment date, the company reverses the dividend payable with a debit entry and credits its cash account for the corresponding cash outflow.

It’s worth noting that cash dividends do not impact a company’s income statement directly. However, they reduce a company’s shareholders’ equity and cash balance by the same amount. Companies are required to report any cash dividends as payments in the financing activity section of their cash flow statement.

Cash dividend example

As an illustration, let’s consider Nike, a mature company known for paying quarterly cash dividends. In February 2022, Nike announced a quarterly cash dividend of $0.305 per share, payable on April 1, 2022. For fiscal year 2021, the company reported a year-over-year revenue increase of 19.3%, with earnings per share (EPS) rising by 123%.

Related concepts

What is a stock dividend?

Less common than cash dividends, stock dividends involve paying shareholders with additional shares of stock rather than cash.

What is a special dividend?

Special dividends are paid to shareholders outside of the regular dividend schedule and often result from windfall earnings, spin-offs, or other one-time corporate actions. They tend to be larger than ordinary dividends.

What are dividend aristocrats?

Dividend aristocrats are stocks that have increased their dividends for at least 25 consecutive years. Examples include AT&T, ExxonMobil, Caterpillar, 3M, and IBM, among others.

Frequently asked questions

How are cash dividends different from stock dividends?

Cash dividends are payments made to shareholders in the form of money, while stock dividends provide additional shares of stock. Cash dividends provide shareholders with immediate cash returns, whereas stock dividends increase the number of shares they hold.

Are cash dividends guaranteed?

Cash dividends are typically not guaranteed. Companies can choose to pay or skip them based on their financial performance and board decisions. While many established companies aim to maintain consistent cash dividend payments, economic factors may influence their ability to do so.

Do all companies pay cash dividends?

No, not all companies pay cash dividends. Growth-oriented companies, especially in sectors like technology, often reinvest their profits to fund expansion rather than distributing cash dividends. Cash dividend payments are more common among mature companies with stable cash flows.

How do I receive cash dividends?

If you own shares in a company that declares cash dividends, you will receive them based on the number of shares you hold. The dividends are typically deposited directly into your brokerage or investment account. Some investors may choose to reinvest their cash dividends back into the company’s stock.

Are cash dividends taxable?

Yes, cash dividends are generally taxable as income for the recipients. The tax rate depends on your overall income and the tax laws in your jurisdiction. You will receive a Form 1099-DIV from your brokerage or the paying company, which outlines the total amount of reportable dividend earnings.

What is a dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP)?

A dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP) is a program offered by some companies that allows shareholders to automatically reinvest their cash dividends into additional shares of the company’s stock. This can be an effective way to compound your investment over time without incurring additional transaction fees.

Can I choose to receive cash dividends as cash instead of reinvesting them?

Yes, in most cases, you have the option to receive cash dividends as actual cash instead of reinvesting them. Many brokerage platforms provide this choice, allowing shareholders to decide how they want to use their dividend income.

Are there any risks associated with cash dividends?

While cash dividends can provide regular income to investors, there are risks involved. Companies may reduce or eliminate dividend payments if they face financial challenges. Additionally, relying solely on dividend income may limit your portfolio’s growth potential, as dividend-paying stocks may not experience as much price appreciation as growth stocks.

Do cash dividends affect a company’s financial statements?

Cash dividends do not directly impact a company’s income statement, but they do affect its balance sheet. When a company declares a dividend, it reduces its retained earnings (an equity account) and increases its liabilities by creating a “dividend payable” account. On the payment date, the company decreases the dividend payable liability and reduces its cash balance.

Can I find information about a company’s dividend history?

Yes, you can typically find a company’s dividend history on financial websites, in its annual reports, or through your brokerage platform. This history will show the amounts and frequency of past cash dividend payments, providing insights into the company’s dividend track record.

Key takeaways

  • Cash dividends are periodic payments made by companies to their shareholders in the form of money.
  • They are often paid quarterly but can be monthly, annually, or semiannually.
  • Companies with stable cash flows and beyond the growth stage are more likely to pay cash dividends.
  • Investors can choose to accept cash dividends or reinvest them.
  • Dividend earnings are taxable and should be reported as income.
View Article Sources
  1. Dividend – Investor.gov
  2. How are dividends defined in the U.S. national accounts? – Bureau of Economy Analysis
  3. the One-time Received Dividend Deduction – IRS.gov