Preferred and common stocks are different in two key aspects.

First, preferred stockholders have a greater claim to a company's assets and earnings. This is true during the good times when the company has excess cash and decides to distribute money in the form of dividends to its investors. In these instances when distributions are made, preferred stockholders must be paid before common stockholders. However, this claim is most important during times of insolvency when common stockholders are last in line for the company's assets. This means that when the company must liquidate and pay all creditors and bondholders, common stockholders will not receive any money until after the preferred shareholders are paid out.

Second, the dividends of preferred stocks are different from and generally greater than those of common stock. When you buy a preferred stock, you will have an idea of when to expect a dividend because they are paid at regular intervals. This is not necessarily the case for common stock, as the company's board of directors will decide whether or not to pay out a dividend. Because of this characteristic, preferred stock typically don't fluctuate as often as a company's common stock and can sometimes be classified as a fixed-income security. Adding to this fixed-income personality is the fact that the dividends are typically guaranteed, meaning that if the company does miss one, it will be required to pay it before any future dividends are paid on either stock.

To sum up: a good way to think of a preferred stock is as a security with characteristics somewhere in-between a bond and a common stock.

(To learn more about the similarities and differences of common and preferred shares, see our Stock Basics Tutorial.)

  1. Which mutual funds made money in 2008?

    Out of the 2,800 mutual funds that Morningstar, Inc., the leading provider of independent investment research in North America, ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What are the dividend reinvestment options for a mutual fund?

    There are two primary choices for how investors can choose to handle dividend distributions made by mutual funds that they ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What are ComputerShare's escheatment services?

    Escheatment is the process by which ownership of abandoned property is transferred to the state. Escheated property can include ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Do mutual funds pay dividends or interest?

    Depending on the type of investments included in the portfolio, mutual funds may pay dividends, interest, or both. Types ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Should I sell my shares if a company suspends its dividend?

    Since 2008, when the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to zero and then kept them there indefinitely, dividend-paying ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Do hedge funds pay dividends?

    Hedge funds rarely pay dividends to the accredited investors who invest directly in them. Instead, these investors share ... Read Full Answer >>
Related Articles
  1. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in ConocoPhillips Stock

    Understand the risks of investing in ConocoPhillips stock. Learn about how there is a risk of a dividend cut due to lower prices for crude oil.
  2. Investing

    6 High Value and High Dividend Stocks

    Are you looking for stocks that offer regular dividends payments and will appreciate? Here are the top stocks that offer the best of both.
  3. Investing

    In Search of the Rate-Proof Portfolio

    After October’s better-than-expected employment report, a December Federal Reserve (Fed) liftoff is looking more likely than it was earlier this fall.
  4. Investing

    Where the Price is Right for Dividends

    There are two broad schools of thought for equity income investing: The first pays the highest dividend yields and the second focuses on healthy yields.
  5. Investing

    3 Cheap Dividend Growth Stocks for Your Portfolio

    Top dividend growth stocks to add to your portfolio.
  6. Investing

    The Pros and Cons of High-Yield Bonds

    Junk bonds are more volatile than investment-grade bonds but may provide significant advantages when analyzed in-depth.
  7. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    How to Reinvest Dividends from ETFs

    Learn about reinvesting ETF dividends, including the benefits and drawbacks of dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs) and manual reinvestment.
  8. Retirement

    Is Caterpillar Stock Suitable for Your IRA or Roth IRA?

    Learn about Caterpillar's suitability for a retirement portfolio. Does CAT have long-term viability? Find out if CAT is better for a traditional IRA or Roth IRA.
  9. Financial Advisors

    Ditching High-Yield Bonds for Plain Vanilla Ones

    In a low-rate environment, it's tempting to go for higher yield bonds. However, you might be better off sticking with the plain vanilla ones.
  10. Markets

    Are EM Stocks Finally Emerging?

    Many investors are looking at emerging market (EM) stocks and wonder if it’s time to step back in, while others wonder if we’ll see further declines.
  1. Record Date

    The cut-off date established by a company in order to determine ...
  2. Real Estate Investment Trust - REIT

    A REIT is a type of security that invests in real estate through ...
  3. Profit Margin

    Profit margin is part of a category of profitability ratios calculated ...
  4. Dividend Yield

    A financial ratio that shows how much a company pays out in dividends ...
  5. Security

    A financial instrument that represents an ownership position ...
  6. Return On Invested Capital - ROIC

    A calculation used to assess a company's efficiency at allocating ...

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Cyber Monday

    An expression used in online retailing to describe the Monday following U.S. Thanksgiving weekend. Cyber Monday is generally ...
  2. Bar Chart

    A style of chart used by some technical analysts, on which, as illustrated below, the top of the vertical line indicates ...
  3. Take A Bath

    A slang term referring to the situation of an investor who has experienced a large loss from an investment or speculative ...
  4. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
  5. Turkey

    Slang for an investment that yields disappointing results or turns out worse than expected. Failed business deals, securities ...
  6. Barefoot Pilgrim

    A slang term for an unsophisticated investor who loses all of his or her wealth by trading equities in the stock market. ...
Trading Center