Can a Corporation Deduct Dividend Payments Before Its Taxes Are Calculated?

It’s possible, depending on how the company is structured

Reviewed by Lea D. UraduReviewed by Lea D. Uradu

Many corporations cannot legally deduct dividend payments before taxes. When C corps pay dividends, their shareholders get hit twice. The company pays tax and then the shareholder pays a tax on it, too. However, not all companies are structured this way. Some companies are set up so that any income they make passes straight to their owners, shareholders, or investors. In these cases, the company isn’t taxed on the dividend. Let’s take a closer look on when corporations can and can not deduct dividend payments.

Key Takeaways

  • Dividends are taxable to a corporation as they represent a company’s profits.
  • Shareholders are also taxed when they receive dividends. Although that tax rate is often more favorable than ordinary income, some see this as a double taxation.
  • Companies not structured as C corps avoid this, with profits flowing directly to the owner(s).
  • When a company is structured as an income trust, such as REITs, it can deduct dividends, or trust payments, before taxes are calculated.

What Is a Dividend?

First, let’s make sure we clarify what a dividend is. A dividend is a disbursement of a company’s earnings to its shareholders or investors, usually in the form of cash. Because dividends represent a portion of net income, they are considered taxable as income from the company, and have a more favorable dividend tax rate to individuals.

Not all companies pay out dividends. Some use net profits to reinvest in the company’s growth and to fund projects where that money is accounted for as retained earnings. Companies can also change their year-over-year policy regarding dividends. For example, just because they paid out a dividend this year, that does not mean they have to next year. However, from an investor perspective, consistency is pretty important when it comes to dividends.

Double Taxation of Dividends

If a company decides to pay out dividends, the earnings can be thought of as being taxed twice by the government due to the transfer of the money from the company to the shareholders.

The first instance of taxation occurs at the company’s fiscal year-end when it must pay taxes on its earnings. The second taxation occurs when the shareholders receive the dividends, which come from the company’s after-tax earnings. The shareholders pay taxes first as owners of a company that brings in earnings and then again as individuals, who must pay income taxes on their own personal dividend earnings.

This may not seem like a big deal to people who don’t earn substantial amounts of dividend income, but it does bother those whose dividend earnings are large. Consider this: you work all week and get a paycheck from which tax is deducted. After arriving home, you give your children their weekly allowances, and then an IRS representative shows up at your front door to take a portion of the money you give to your kids. You would complain since you already paid taxes on the money you earned, but in the context of dividend payouts double taxation of earnings is legal.


The deductibility of dividends depends on the legal structure.

Corporate Deductions

For a corporation, only ordinary and necessary business expenses are deductible from income to determine taxable income. Examples include salaries paid to employees and rent for office or factory space. In addition, smaller items that are consumed may eventually get expensed such as supplies or raw materials used in production (though these may be housed as inventory before getting expensed).

However, dividends do not fall into the category of ordinary and necessary business expenses. Dividends are payments made to shareholders as a return on their investment in the corporation, representing a portion of the company’s profits. These payments are not connected to the operational costs or necessary expenses required to run the business. Instead, dividends are a way for a corporation to distribute its net income to its shareholders, rewarding them for their investment and sharing the company’s financial success. For this reason, they’re usually not deductible.

“Pass-Through” Entities

Not all dividend payments are subject to double taxation. It depends on how the company is structured.

Virtually all public companies are C corporations. With C corps, the company’s assets are separate from the owners’ assets. This limits the personal liability of the directors, shareholders, and so on. The downside, however, is that owners or shareholders get taxed separately.

Businesses organized as a “flow-through” or “pass-through” entity, such as sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), and S corporations, don’t experience such issues. Under this kind of structure, the profits flow directly to the owner(s). The business is not taxed separately.

Income Trusts and REITs

Income trusts are another example of a pass-through entity. With this type of corporate structure, a company can deduct dividends, or trust payments, before taxes are calculated. The essence of an income trust is to pay all of the earnings after all business expenses to the unit holders, who are the owners of the income trust.

Real estate investment trusts (REITs) are the most common corporate income trusts. These companies, which own and operate income-generating real estate, get special treatment in exchange for meeting certain rules. To qualify as a REIT, the bulk of assets and income must come from real estate and 90% of taxable income must be paid to shareholders. In other words, pretty much all of the earnings generated are directly passed to shareholders.

Dividends Received Deduction

The dividends received deduction (DRD) is a tax provision in the United States that offers a benefit to corporations receiving dividends from other domestic corporations. This provision is particularly aimed at mitigating the multiple layers of taxation.

Without the DRD, the same income could potentially be taxed at a subsidiary level, a parent corporation level, and again when distributed to individual shareholders, leading to a phenomenon known as triple taxation.

When a corporation owns stock in another corporation and receives dividends from that stock, the DRD allows the receiving corporation to deduct a portion of these dividends from its taxable income. The percentage of dividends that can be deducted under the DRD depends on the ownership stake the receiving corporation holds in the dividend-paying corporation. Specifically:

  • If the receiving corporation owns less than 20% of the distributing corporation’s stock, it can deduct 50% of the dividends received.
  • If the ownership is 20% or more, but less than 80%, the deduction increases to 65%.
  • If the receiving corporation owns 80% or more of the distributing corporation, it can deduct 100% of the dividends received.

Keep in mind that it is the company receiving the dividend that gets to deduct the dividend. The payor must still be responsible for paying taxes at its level.

Are Dividends Calculated Before or After Tax?

That depends on how the company is structured. Most publicly traded companies are C corps, which means owners or shareholders get taxed separately. These companies are taxed before paying out dividends, so these payments come from after-tax earnings. Flow-through entities are different. With this structure, the company isn’t taxed on the income it makes as it belongs to the owners or shareholders. Only these individuals—and not the entity itself—are taxed on revenues. The dividend is paid and then the recipient must pay tax on it.

Can a Corporation Deduct Dividends Paid to Shareholders?

C corporations pay tax on their income before paying dividends. For them, dividends are not a deductible expense.

When Should a Corporation Pay Dividends?

Dividend-paying corporations generally distribute payments to shareholders every quarter. Companies that pay dividends are typically established ones generating lots of excess cash. Investors love dividends and paying a decent one can boost share prices. However, they may not always be beneficial or appreciated. Money could maybe be better spent elsewhere, such as on acquisitions or growing the business. Such investments might generate higher overall returns for investors.

The Bottom Line

Shareholders of publicly traded companies will notice that with dividends, tax gets levied twice on the same income. First, the company pays taxes on profits, then the shareholders pay taxes on the proceeds that are distributed. That’s part of the downside of being a C corp and comes with the territory of separating a company’s assets from the assets of its owners.

Flow-through entities, such as REITs, don’t have this problem. Being structured this way makes it possible to deduct dividends before taxes are calculated.

Read the original article on Investopedia.