If you're a dividend investor, you're probably not too happy these days. Since the banking crisis started in September, dividend payments have been sliced and diced like veggies at a Japanese steakhouse.

The pain hasn't been limited by sector, either. In addition to cuts at major banks such as Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), we've seen similar carnage at companies such as Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW), Toyota (NYSE:TM), and General Electric (NYSE:GE).

And with all of these cuts, one of the best arguments for dividend stocks -- that reinvested dividends buy more shares in down markets, thus softening your downside and positioning you better for the eventual rally -- has been shot to pieces.

But are you making things worse?

I was.
My own personal dividend sucker-punch came on April 15, when I got my tax bill. Because I keep most of my dividend stocks in a regular brokerage account, and because my dividend income didn't stop when the market hit the skids, I ended up in the ... umm ... annoying position of owing Uncle Sam about $500.

That's a tough pill for any investor to swallow, especially when portfolios are shrinking.

There are some easy ways to make sure you don't make the same mistake:

  • Double-check your tax forms to see that you're taking the right number of allowances. If you think you might be underpaying, you can elect to have extra cash withheld from your monthly paycheck to account for your dividends.
  • If you'd rather not touch your monthly income, make sure your brokerage firm is taxing your dividends as they occur. Doing so on the front end could protect you from an unwanted April surprise.

But there's another, bigger-picture solution. We here at the Motley Fool call it "asset location," not to be confused with its flashier, more popular cousin "asset allocation."

The basic idea is this: If you're saving for retirement, you should keep as many of your income-producing investments in tax-advantaged accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s, etc.) as possible. This may seem like a pretty simple concept, but its effect over the long term can be staggering.

For example ...
Let's imagine two investors who favor large-cap dividend stocks. Both start with $5,000 invested in dividend-paying stocks yielding at least 3%, and both reinvest every dividend they get. They invest for 35 years, and see the same yearly rise in stock prices (7%) and dividend payouts (5%).

Such companies are relatively easy to find, and often come with wide moats, great brand recognition, and dominant positions in their industries. Think companies like beverage behemoth PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) and consumer-goods giants Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) and JM Smucker (NYSE:SJM).

The only difference between our two investors is that Investor A's investments are in a Roth IRA, and Investor B's are in a regular brokerage account. As a result, Investor A only pays taxes on his money once -- when it gets taxed in his paycheck.

Investor B, on the other hand, gets taxed twice -- in his paycheck and on his dividend income. Over time, what looks like a small difference gets very big indeed.

Metric

Investor A

Investor B

Total Value After 35 Years Invested

$604,359

$425,350

Dividends Collected After Taxes

$382,286

$249,853

By investing over the long haul, Investor B turns his initial $5,000 into a pretty nice sum. $425,000 definitely won't be enough to retire on -- some estimates suggest you'll need $1 million in order to retire comfortably -- but it's a start.

Investor A, on the other hand, by holding his dividend-paying assets in a tax-advantaged account, gains an extra 42%!

But wait -- there's more!
Asset location is just one of the strategies Robert Brokamp writes about at Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement. Here's another tip about tax-advantaged savings: "The government spends more than it has, and it will get worse as retiring baby boomers strain entitlement programs," Brokamp writes. "Exactly how much taxes will increase is not known, but some experts believe taxes will be 30% to 50% higher. If you agree, then building up a stockpile of Roth assets is smart."

Brokamp has been helping Rule Your Retirement subscribers for more than five years now, and as part of this milestone, he's leading current members in a year of "Fiscal Fitness." Sound like something you might need? Take Rule Your Retirement for a spin with our no-risk 30-day free trial. Click here for more details.

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Matt Trogdon owns shares of PepsiCo. Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. J.M. Smucker is an Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble and has a tax-advantaged disclosure policy.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.