Paying taxes once on your investments can be painful enough. But many people don't realize that dividend investments can double the IRS's chances to reach into your wallet -- unless you take advantage of a clever, simple strategy to block the tax man.

Double trouble
Imagine that you own shares of stock in Meteorite Insurance (Ticker: HEDSUP). You and the other shareholders actually own the company, which thus takes in revenue and wrings out profit on your behalf. Before the company arrives at your profit, though, it pays its corporate taxes. So Meteorite Insurance pie has already paid taxes on your slice of the profit pie. Got that?

Meanwhile, as a shareholder in Meteorite Insurance, you receive a quarterly dividend. And each year, when you prepare your tax return, you have to include your dividend income -- so that you can be taxed on it. That's the second tax hit.

The good, the bad, and the taxable
For the moment, that tax hit mercifully tops out at 15% for most of us, thanks to a set of 2003 tax cuts. But those cuts are due to expire at the end of the year. If they're not extended (which they might be), dividends will go back to being taxed at your ordinary tax rate, which could be as high as 35%.

Check out how much you'd owe in a single year with each tax rate, if you had $10,000 invested in each of the following companies:

Company

Recent Yield

Ann. Dividend on $10K Investment

15% Tax on Dividend

35% Tax on Dividend

Qwest (NYSE:Q)

7.4%

$740

$111

$259

Nokia (NYSE:NOK)

4.1%

$410

$62

$144

NYSE Euronext (NYSE:NYX)

5.1%

$510

$77

$179

Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK)

5.8%

$580

$87

$203

DuPont (NYSE:DD)

5.0%

$500

$75

$175

Kraft (NYSE:KFT)

4.2%

$420

$63

$147

GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK)

4.8%

$480

$72

$168

Totals

 

$3,640

$546

$1,275

Data: Yahoo! Finance.

Don't give up on dividends
Even though dividends get taxed twice, that doesn't mean you should steer clear of stocks that offer payouts. In fact, if you play your cards right, you can reduce those taxes to zero!

Park your healthy dividend payers in your Roth IRA. If you play by the rules, you should be able to withdraw your money -- capital appreciation, dividends, and all -- completely tax-free. And even in a regular IRA, you'll be able to defer paying taxes on your dividend payments when you receive them.

Getting double-taxed on your investments isn't any fun. Hopefully, the current tax break on dividends will get extended in some form. Otherwise, investors might be in for a shock when tax time 2012 rolls around.

Dividends are valuable in more ways than one. Chuck Saletta can show you how ordinary investors trounced the lost decade.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Nokia is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. NYSE Euronext is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Duke Energy is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of GlaxoSmithKline. Try any of our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.