A dividend is a distribution of a portion of a company's earnings, decided by the board of directors, to a class of its shareholders. Dividends can be issued as cash payments, as shares of stock, or other property. The definition of dividend can be broken down into categories such as:
- Cash dividends are the most common form of payment and are paid out in currency, usually via electronic funds transfer or a printed paper check. Such dividends are a form of investment income and are usually taxable to the recipient in the year they are paid. This is the most common method of sharing corporate profits with the shareholders of the company. For each share owned, a declared amount of money is distributed. Thus, if a person owns 100 shares and the cash dividend is 50 pence per share, the holder of the stock will be paid GBP £50. Dividends paid are not classified as an expense, but rather a deduction of retained earnings. Dividends paid does not show up on an income statement but does appear on the balance sheet.
- Stock or scrip dividends are those paid out in the form of additional stock shares of the issuing corporation, or another corporation (such as its subsidiary corporation). They are usually issued in proportion to shares owned (for example, for every 100 shares of stock owned, a 5% stock dividend will yield 5 extra shares).
- Stock dividend distributions are issues of new shares made to limited partners by a partnership in the form of additional shares. Nothing is split, these shares increase the market capitalization and total value of the company at the same time reducing the original cost basis per share.
- Stock dividends are not includable in the gross income of the shareholder for US income tax purposes. Because the shares are issued for proceeds equal to the pre-existing market price of the shares; there is no negative dilution in the amount recoverable.
- Property dividends or dividends in specie are those paid out in the form of assets from the issuing corporation or another corporation, such as a subsidiary corporation. They are relatively rare and most frequently are securities of other companies owned by the issuer, however they can take other forms, such as products and services.
- Interim dividends are dividend payments made before a company's Annual General Meeting (AGM) and final financial statements. This declared dividend usually accompanies the company's interim financial statements.
Other dividends can be used in structured finance. Financial assets with a known market value can be distributed as dividends; warrants are sometimes distributed in this way. For large companies with subsidiaries, dividends can take the form of shares in a subsidiary company. A common technique for "spinning off" a company from its parent is to distribute shares in the new company to the old company's shareholders. The new shares can then be traded independently.