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What is the Record Date? Definition, Importance, and Real-World Examples

Last updated 03/15/2024 by

Alessandra Nicole

Edited by

Fact checked by

Summary:
The record date is a crucial concept in the world of finance, determining which shareholders are eligible to receive dividends or distributions from a company. It’s closely related to the ex-dividend date, and understanding the distinction is vital for anyone interested in dividend stocks. This article explores the record date, its significance, and how it impacts investors’ ability to receive dividends.

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What is the record date?

The record date, also known as the date of record, is a critical milestone set by a company to identify which shareholders qualify to receive dividends or distributions. This date serves the purpose of establishing a clear snapshot of a company’s shareholders at that specific moment since ownership of actively traded stocks can change frequently. Shareholders recorded on the record date will be entitled to receive any dividends or distributions declared by the company.

Understanding the record date

The concept of the record date is closely intertwined with another essential date in the financial world, the ex-dividend date. Beyond the ex-dividend date, any buyer of the stock is not entitled to receive the dividend, as the seller retains that privilege. A thorough grasp of a company’s record date is crucial for anyone considering investing in dividend stocks. It’s important to note that the precise definition of the record date may vary slightly between different countries, such as the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
The ex-dividend date is strategically set one business day ahead of the dividend record date. This arrangement is due to the T+2 settlement system currently in use in North America, where stock trades are settled two business days after the transaction occurs. Consequently, if an investor acquires a stock one business day before its record date, the trade will only settle the day after the record date. As a result, they won’t be recognized as a shareholder of record and won’t receive the dividend.
It’s worth noting that different rules apply when the dividend represents 25% or more of the security’s value, although this is relatively rare. In such cases, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) stipulates that the ex-date is the first business day following the payable date.
WEIGH THE RISKS AND BENEFITS
Here is a list of the benefits and drawbacks to consider.
Pros
  • Allows for a clear identification of eligible shareholders.
  • Prevents unauthorized individuals from receiving dividends.
  • Ensures transparency in the distribution of dividends.
Cons
  • Potential confusion for new investors regarding the ex-dividend date.
  • Some investors may miss out on dividends due to the strict timeline.
  • Varies in definition between different stock exchanges.

Example of a record date

Let’s illustrate the concept of the record date with a practical example:
Suppose Company Alpha has declared a dividend of $1, payable on May 1, to shareholders of record as of April 10. In this case, the record date is April 10, and the ex-dividend date falls one business day before the record date, which is April 9 (if April 9–10 fall mid-week with no holidays).
Now, let’s say Sam wishes to receive the $1 dividend per Alpha share. To achieve this, Sam should purchase the stock before the ex-dividend date. If they buy Alpha shares on April 8, their trade will settle on April 10, making them a shareholder of record as of April 10 and thus eligible to receive the dividend. However, if Sam waits until April 9, which is the ex-dividend date, to buy Alpha shares, their trade will only settle on April 11. In this scenario, they would not receive the dividend because they were not recognized as a shareholder of Alpha as of the April 10 record date.

Frequently asked questions

What is the purpose of the record date?

The record date serves the purpose of identifying shareholders who are eligible to receive dividends or distributions from a company. It ensures transparency in the dividend distribution process.

How does the record date relate to the ex-dividend date?

The ex-dividend date is set one business day before the record date. On and after the ex-dividend date, new buyers of the stock are not entitled to receive the dividend.

What happens if I buy a stock on the ex-dividend date?

If you buy a stock on the ex-dividend date, your trade will only settle after the record date. As a result, you won’t be recognized as a shareholder of record and won’t receive the dividend.

Key takeaways

  • The record date is crucial for determining dividend eligibility.
  • The ex-dividend date is set one business day before the record date due to settlement timelines.
  • Buying a stock on the ex-dividend date may result in missing out on dividends.

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