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Speaking Mathanese: Dividend Taxes

Welcome back to another edition of "Speaking Mathanese," our Motley Fool series that tackles financial math myths and deconstructs the computations that make the biggest difference to your bottom line.

This week, our quest to make you smarter than a fifth-grader has us casting off the capital gains tax to divine the details of the dividend tax.

The myth
Remember our quiz? To review, I asked you to tell me what the capital gain would be had you bought 100 shares of each of these stocks and held them for exactly one year:


Closing Price

Closing Price

Dividends Pd.





Boeing (NYSE:BA)




Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)




Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG)








Source: Yahoo! Finance

Last time, we didn't account for dividends in figuring capital gains tax. But dividends aren't tax-free, and three of these stocks paid dividends -- Boeing, Microsoft, and Procter & Gamble:


Dividends Paid





Procter & Gamble


So, we'd pay taxes on these amounts as ordinary income, right? Right?!?

The math
Not exactly. Some dividends are "qualified" and, thereby, taxed at more favorable rates. What's a "qualified" dividend? Here's how our friends at Investopedia define it:

A type of dividend to which capital gains tax rates are applied ... In order to qualify: (1) The dividend must have been paid by an American company or a qualifying foreign company, (2) The dividends are not listed with the IRS as dividends that do not qualify, (3) The required dividend holding period has been met. [Emphasis mine.]

Confused? I was too, till I read up on the rules in Publication 17, provided by the IRS here, if you're that type. If you're not (good for you), allow me to summarize.

First, the U.S. government has tax treaties with dozens of countries. Stocks operating under a tax treaty usually pay qualified dividends. GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK  ) of the U.K. and Tata Motors (NYSE: TTM  ) of India are two examples.

Second, some types of dividends are unqualified. An example could be interest paid to you by a credit union. Most CUs will call that a dividend. The IRS won't, and you'll have to pay taxes on the distribution at your ordinary income tax rate.

Third and finally, the Feds require that you hold stock that pays you a dividend for at least 60 days after the ex-dividend date -- that is, the date at which you must have been a shareholder of record to receive a payment. Sell earlier than that, and you'll be forced to record the proceeds as ordinary income. Otherwise, you'll pay no more than 15%.

Or, in Mathanese:

Tax = Dividend x no more than .15 (for qualified dividends)            

Tax = Dividend x your normal tax rate (for unqualified dividends)

Still have questions? Submit them here, and I'll see you next week for more Mathanese.

For more money ideas, get 30 days of free access to Motley Fool Green Light  right now. There's no obligation to subscribe.

Amazon is a Stock Advisor selection. Microsoft is an Inside Value recommendation. Volcom is a two-time Hidden Gems pick. GlaxoSmithKline is an Income Investor recommendation.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers writes weekly about personal finance and investing basics. Have a Foolish money tip? Tell him. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Find his portfolio here and his latest blog commentary here. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy is lobbying its local school district for a course in beginning mathanese.

Read/Post Comments (1) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 14, 2011, at 12:19 PM, clancy1951 wrote:

    The following statement is not entirely true. "Third and finally, the Feds require that you hold stock that pays you a dividend for at least 60 days after the ex-dividend date -- that is, the date at which you must have been a shareholder of record to

    receive a payment."

    From 17, "Holding period. You must have held the stock for more than 60 days during the 121-day period that begins 60 days before the ex-dividend date. The ex-dividend date is the first date following the declaration of a dividend on which the buyer of a stock is not entitled to receive the next dividend payment. Instead, the seller will get the dividend.

    When counting the number of days you held the stock, include the day you disposed of the stock, but not the day you acquired it."

    So you could hold the stock for 60 days including the ex-dividend date and still receive the dividend.

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