Topic 404 - Dividends

Dividends are distributions of property a corporation may pay you if you own stock in that corporation. Corporations pay most dividends in cash. However, they may also pay them as stock of another corporation or as any other property. You also may receive dividends through your interest in a partnership, an estate, a trust, a subchapter S corporation or from an association that is taxable as a corporation. A shareholder of a corporation may be deemed to receive a dividend if the corporation pays the debt of its shareholder, the shareholder receives services from the corporation or the shareholder is allowed the use of the corporation's property. Additionally, a shareholder that provides services to a corporation may be deemed to receive a dividend if the corporation pays the shareholder service-provider in excess of what it would pay a third party for the same services. A shareholder may also receive distributions such as additional stock or stock rights in the distributing corporation; such distributions may or may not qualify as dividends.

You should receive a Form 1099-DIV (PDF), Dividends and Distributions, from each payer for distributions of at least $10.00. If you receive dividends through a partnership, an estate, a trust or a subchapter S corporation, you should receive a Schedule K-1 from that entity indicating the amount of dividends taxable to you. You must report all taxable dividends even if you do not receive a Form 1099-DIV or Schedule K-1.

Dividends are the most common type of distribution from a corporation. They are paid out of the earnings and profits of the corporation. Dividends can be classified either as ordinary or qualified. Whereas ordinary dividends are taxable as ordinary income, qualified dividends that meet certain requirements are taxed at lower capital gain rates. For a definition of qualified dividends, refer to Publication 550, Investment Income and Expenses.

Distributions that qualify as a return of capital are not dividends. A return of capital is a return of some or all of your investment in the stock of the company. A return of capital reduces the basis of your stock. For information on basis of assets, refer to Topic 703. A distribution generally qualifies as a return of capital if the corporation making the distribution does not have any accumulated or current year earnings and profits. Once the basis of your stock has been reduced to zero, any further non-dividend distribution is capital gain.

Regulated investment companies (RICs) (mutual funds, exchange traded funds, money market funds, etc.) and real estate investment trusts (REITs) may pay capital gain distributions. Capital gain distributions are always reported as long-term capital gains. You must also report any undistributed capital gain that RICs or REITs have designated to you in a written notice. They report these undistributed capital gains to you on Form 2439 (PDF), Notice to Shareholder of Undistributed Long-Term Capital Gains. For information on how to report qualifying dividends and capital gain distributions, refer to the Form 1040 Instructions (PDF) or Form 1040A Instructions (PDF).

Form 1099-DIV should break down the distribution into the various categories. If it does not, contact the payer.

You must give your correct Social Security number to the payer of your dividend income. If you do not, you may be subject to a penalty and/or backup withholding. For more information on backup withholding, refer to Topic 307.

If you receive dividends in significant amounts, you may have to pay estimated tax to avoid a penalty. See Estimated Taxes on IRS.gov for more information.

You may find more information on dividend income in Publication 550.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: January 28, 2015