Accelerated Dividend

DEFINITION of 'Accelerated Dividend'

Special dividends paid by a company ahead of an imminent change in the treatment of dividends, such as an adverse change in dividend taxation. Accelerated dividends from U.S. companies came to the forefront in the fourth quarter of 2012. During that period. numerous companies expedited dividend payments ahead of the January 1, 2013 expiration of the preferential 15% tax on dividend income instituted by former President Bush in 2003. The concern was that as a consequence of the fiscal cliff, the dividend tax rate could more than double for taxpayers in the highest income bracket.

BREAKING DOWN 'Accelerated Dividend'

U.S. companies scrambled to pay accelerated dividends in the fourth quarter of 2012, with total special dividend announcements exceeding $31 billion, an increase of more than four times the dividend payout made in the year-earlier period. In November 2012 alone, 228 companies announced special dividends, a more than three-fold increase from the 72 companies that did so a year earlier.

Many companies went to great lengths to minimize the potential tax bill to their shareholders. Some tactics included consolidating future dividend payments into one payout, and taking on debt to pay accelerated dividends.

For example, the Washington Post accelerated payment of all its 2013 dividends into one single dividend payout made in December 2012. Seaboard Corp accelerated its $3 annual dividend for the 2013-2016 period and made a single consolidated dividend payment on December 28, 2012. Oracle accelerated its dividend payments for the first three quarters of 2013, consolidating its quarterly dividend of 6 cents per share into one payment of 18 cents paid on December 21, 2012. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who owned 1.1 billion Oracle shares at the time, received close to $200 million from the accelerated dividend payment, saving over $50 million in federal income taxes. Costco paid out a special dividend of $7 per share for a total of $3 billion, and funded it by taking on $3.5 billion in debt.

Fears that the tax rate on dividends could soar from 15% to over 40% for high-income taxpayers subsequently proved to be unfounded. Thanks to the last-minute fiscal cliff deal signed in January 2013, the top marginal tax rate on dividend income was set at 20% for taxpayers with adjusted gross income of $200,000 or more (the threshold is $250,000 if married and filing jointly).