Cash or stock dividends distributed to shareholders are not recorded as an expense on a company's income statement. Stock and cash dividends do not affect a company's net income or profit. Instead, dividends impact the shareholders' equity section of the balance sheet. Dividends, whether cash or stock, represent a reward to investors for their investment in the company.

While cash dividends reduce the overall shareholders' equity balance, stock dividends represent a reallocation of part of a company's retained earnings to the common stock and additional paid-in capital accounts.

Key Takeaways

  • Cash or stock dividends distributed to shareholders are not recorded as an expense on a company's income statement.
  • Cash dividends are cash outflows to a company's shareholders and are recorded as a reduction in the cash and retained earnings accounts.
  • Stock dividends reallocate part of a company's retained earnings to its common stock and additional paid-in capital accounts.

Understanding Why Dividends are not Expenses

A cash dividend is a sum of money paid by a company to a shareholder out of its profits or reserves called retained earnings. Each quarter, companies retain or accumulate their profits in retained earnings, which is essentially a savings account. Retained earnings is located on the balance sheet in the shareholders' equity section. The cash within retained earnings can be used for investing in the company, repurchase shares of stock, or pay dividends.

The cost of dividends is not included in the company's income statement because they're not an operating expense, which are the costs to run the day-to-day business. A company's dividend policy can be reversed at any time and that, too, will not show up on its financial statements.

Cash Dividends Accounting

Cash dividends represent a company's outflow that goes to its shareholders. It is recorded through a reduction in the company's cash and retained earnings accounts.

Because cash dividends are not a company's expense, they show up as a reduction in the company's statement of changes in shareholders' equity. Cash dividends reduce the size of a company's balance sheet and its value since the company no longer retains part of its liquid assets.

However, cash dividends also impact a company's cash flow statement. Cash flow refers to the inflows or increases as well as the outflows or reductions in cash. Cash dividends impact the financing activities section of the cash flow statement by showing a reduction in cash for the period. In other words, although cash dividends are not an expense, they reduce a company's cash position.

Stock Dividends Accounting

A stock dividend is an award to shareholders of additional shares rather than cash. Similarly, stock dividends do not represent a cash flow transaction and are not considered an expense.

Companies distribute stock dividends to their shareholders in a certain proportion to its common shares outstanding. Stock dividends reallocate part of a company's retained earnings to its common stock and additional paid-in capital accounts. Therefore, they do not affect the overall size of a company's balance sheet.

How Dividends Are Paid

Whether paid in cash or in stock, dividends generally are announced, or "declared," by a company and are then paid out on a quarterly basis at a specified date. Investors are paid in proportion to their holdings. For example, a company might pay a dividend of .25 cents per share, payable 60 days from the date of the announcement.

A company's history of dividends is an important factor in many investors' decision-making process. Dividends tend to be most prized by relatively conservative investors who buy stocks for the long term, and by investors who value the regular income they provide. Dividend-yielding stocks are a component of most portfolios recommended by professional financial advisers.

As noted, there is never a guarantee that a dividend will be paid each year. However, some companies have earned boasting rights over their history of dividend payments. Coca-Cola, for example, notes on its website that it has paid a quarterly dividend since 1955 and that its dividend has increased in each of the last 55 years.