Ordinary vs. Qualified Dividends

A question I’m often asked is: How ordinary dividends work?

Today, we’re diving into the exciting world of dividends, specifically the differences between ordinary and qualified dividends. I know taxes may not be the most thrilling topic, but trust me, understanding these distinctions can significantly impact your bottom line.

So, let’s get down to business and explore the tax advantages of both types of dividends.

Ordinary Dividends: The Basics

Let’s break down how ordinary dividends work. These are the most common type of dividends you’ll encounter when investing in stocks or mutual funds. Generally, ordinary dividends are paid out of a company’s profits, and you can receive them as cash, additional shares of stock, or other property.

One thing to keep in mind is that ordinary dividends are considered taxable income, which means you’ll need to report them on your tax return. They’re typically taxed at your ordinary income tax rate, which can range from 10% to 37% depending on your income level.

Now, let’s dive into the tax advantages of ordinary dividends. While it’s true that they’re taxed at your regular income tax rate, there are still a few perks you can enjoy:

Lower tax rates for some

If you happen to fall within the 10% or 12% income tax bracket, you’re in luck! Your qualified dividend income will be taxed at 0%. That’s right – zero!

Dividends-received deduction for corporations

Corporate investors also get a break on taxes with the dividends-received deduction, which allows corporations to deduct a portion of the dividends they receive from domestic corporations. This helps to prevent triple taxation (more on that in a moment).

how ordinary dividends work

Qualified Dividends: The Tax-Savers

Now, let’s move on to the tax-advantaged world of qualified dividends. These dividends come from stocks that you’ve held for a certain period, and they’re generally paid out by U.S. corporations or qualifying foreign corporations. The big draw with qualified dividends is that they’re taxed at a lower rate than ordinary dividends – specifically, the long-term capital gains rate.

The long-term capital gains tax rate is generally more favorable than the ordinary income tax rate, with three possible rates: 0%, 15%, or 20% (depending on your taxable income and filing status).

This means that, depending on your tax bracket, you could potentially save a considerable amount on taxes by investing in stocks that pay qualified dividends.

Here are some key tax advantages of qualified dividends:

Lower tax rates

As mentioned earlier, qualified dividends are taxed at the long-term capital gains rate, which means you’ll generally pay less in taxes compared to ordinary dividends. This can result in some serious savings, especially for higher-income individuals.

No additional payroll taxes

Unlike ordinary dividends, qualified dividends aren’t subject to the additional 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT) or payroll taxes like Social Security and Medicare.

Reduced triple taxation

When a corporation pays out dividends, they’re first taxed at the corporate level, then again at the shareholder level (that’s you), and finally at the individual level when you report them on your tax return. Qualified dividends help mitigate this triple taxation by being taxed at a lower rate, which ultimately means more money in your pocket.

Ordinary vs. Qualified Dividends

How to Get the Most Out of Your Dividends

Now that we’ve covered the tax advantages of both ordinary and qualified dividends, let’s discuss some strategies to help you maximize those benefits:

Understand your holding period

To qualify for the lower tax rate on qualified dividends, you need to hold the stock for a certain period. This usually means holding the stock for more than 60 days during the 121-day period that begins 60 days before the ex-dividend date (the date by which you must own the stock to receive the dividend). Keep track of your holding periods to ensure you’re meeting these requirements and reaping the benefits.

Diversify with dividend-paying stocks

While it’s essential to have a diversified portfolio, consider adding some dividend-paying stocks that pay qualified dividends to the mix. This can help increase your overall returns while also providing a lower tax burden.

Consider tax-advantaged accounts

If you hold dividend-paying stocks in a tax-advantaged account like a Roth IRA or a 401(k), you can further reduce your tax liability. Since these accounts grow tax-free or tax-deferred, the dividends you receive within these accounts won’t be taxed until you withdraw the funds in retirement (or not at all, in the case of a Roth IRA).

Keep an eye on foreign dividends

Investing in foreign corporations that pay dividends can still result in qualified dividends, but you’ll need to ensure they meet certain criteria. Make sure the foreign corporation is either incorporated in a U.S. possession, eligible for tax treaty benefits with the U.S., or readily tradable on an established U.S. securities market.

Stay informed about tax law changes

Tax laws can change over time, so it’s crucial to stay up-to-date with any modifications that might impact your investments. This will help you make informed decisions and ensure you’re taking full advantage of the tax benefits available to you.


In conclusion, understanding the difference between ordinary and qualified dividends is a vital part of maximizing your investment returns and minimizing your tax burden. By strategically investing in dividend-paying stocks, holding them for the required time, and utilizing tax-advantaged accounts, you can keep more of your hard-earned money and watch your investments grow.

Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge of the tax advantages of ordinary and qualified dividends, it’s time to put this information to good use. Happy investing, and here’s to keeping more of your money where it belongs – with you!