Stock Dividend Dates and Timing Strategies

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There are four important dates to know and understand with regard to dividends and investing in stocks and mutual funds:

  1. The declaration date
  2. The ex-dividend date
  3. The record date
  4. The payment date

In different words, learn more about dividend dates and you can save taxes and improve the performance of your portfolio.

The Basics of Dividends

Dividends are payments by corporations to their shareholders. These payments, usually made on a quarterly basis, can be in the form of cash or shares of stock. When a corporation is profitable, it can either retain earnings to reinvest in the corporation or it can share profits with the owners (the shareholders, aka the investors) in the form of dividends.

Investors often have the option of receiving the dividends in their brokerage accounts as a cash payment (for income objectives) or to reinvest and buy more shares of the security (for growth objectives).

Dividend Dates Explained

The declaration date is the day that the corporation's Board of Directors announces its approval of a dividend payment. The Board will also announce the record date and the payment date of the dividend.

The ex-dividend date is the first day on which new buyers of a stock will not receive the dividend. This day is usually two trading days before the record date because stocks settle three days after the trade date (referred to as a "T + 3" settlement period for "Trade date plus three"). In short, any owners of the stock on the day before the ex-dividend date will receive the dividend.

The day prior to ex-dividend is referred to as an in-dividend date. For example, if the ex-dividend date was today and you sold your shares today, you would still receive the dividend even though the sale won't settle for three days.

A stock's share price usually decreases on the ex-dividend date by an amount roughly equal to the dividend paid because a dividend is a decrease in the company's assets and the adjusted share price will reflect this.

The record date is the date after which new buyers of the shares will not qualify for the pending dividend payments. Remember, this date is a formality because an investor must buy shares prior to the ex-dividend date to own them by the record date because of the "T + 3" settlement period.

What investors need to know is that if they sell shares just one day before the record date, they won't receive the dividend (although their new shares may drop in price, depending upon the timing).

The payment date is the date that the dividends are actually paid in the form of checks or credited to shareholders investment accounts.

Strategies and Cautions of Timing Dividend Dates

As you can imagine, some investors attempt market timing strategies with mutual funds or stocks by purchasing shares just prior to the ex-dividend date to receive the dividend. They may then sell shares shortly thereafter.

In other words, the investor "buys the dividend." This strategy is risky, especially if you believe markets are relatively efficient because share prices can be pushed higher prior to the ex-dividend date in anticipation of the dividend and the price normally falls on or around the payment date. Therefore, the market has "priced in" the dividend and no real advantage can be gained by an investor's timing.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.