Cumulative Dividends 101: A Beginner's Guide to Compounding Payouts

What Are Cumulative Dividends?

Cumulative dividends function differently from cash dividends in terms of how a company distributes them. Unlike cash dividends, which are forfeited if not paid, you receive cumulative dividends that follow another approach. If cumulative dividends are not paid, companies must make it a priority to compansate shareholders by providing the missed dividends. These accrued dividends continue to increase over time and gain interest until they are eventually disbursed.

To make it clearer, let's consider an example: Imagine you own a share with an annual dividend rate of 5%. Suppose the company decides not to pay any dividends for two years. In this situation, the unpaid dividends from those two years, totaling 10%, start accumulating. They earn interest and grow progressively until the company fulfills its obligation and distributes them.

This cumulative effect makes cumulative dividends unique from regular dividends on common shares. Companies are not legally obligated to pay common stock dividends, whereas cumulative preferred dividends must be paid before others according to the contractual terms between shareholders and the company. The compounding aspect causes unpaid cumulative dividends to grow perpetually over time until they are paid off.

How Do Cumulative Dividends Work?

Cumulative dividends operate in a different manner compared to dividends. In this situation the company establishes the dividend amount and volume for shareholders and guarantees its distribution to them. If for any reason the company cannot make the dividend payment, the outstanding dividends will accumulate over time.

To further illustrate this concept, let's consider a share with a dividend of 5%. If the company fails to pay this dividend in one year, that outstanding 5% dividend will accumulate. In that year, the company will be obliged to pay both the missed 5% dividend from the year. The current year's 5% payment. The accumulated unpaid dividends payable must be settled before dividends can be distributed among shareholders.

Essentially, they pay cumulative dividends that build up a ledger of owed payments over time. Companies must pay down these accumulated dividend balances before resuming normal dividend payments. So cumulative dividends provide an extra level of security for preferred shareholders - they have seniority in receiving dividend payments.

The accumulation and priority of payment over common dividends are key features of cumulative dividends. Companies must fulfill their dividend obligations before distributing profits to shareholders. By prioritizing dividends, companies uphold the rights of shareholders and ensure that their entitlements are respected in difficult circumstances. This approach not only builds trust among investors but also highlights the importance of dividends, in reducing risk, for shareholders.

Cumulative Dividend Formula

The formula for calculating a cumulative dividend is:

Cumulative Dividend = (Dividend Rate x Par Value x Number of Years) - Dividends Already Paid


  • The Dividend Rate refers to the dividend rate expressed as a percentage of the face value
  • Par Value is the face value of the preferred share
  • Number of Years is the time period being calculated
  • Dividends Already Paid are any dividends paid so far

Let's walk through an example of how to calculate a cumulative dividend:

  • Preferred share with a par value of $100
  • Annual dividend rate is 5%
  • The dividend has not been paid for 3 years
  • Plugging this into the formula: Cumulative Dividend = (0.05 x $100 x 3) - $0 = $15
  • Therefore, the cumulative unpaid dividend owed over 3 years is $15 per share.

Investors can use this equation to figure out the dividends due on a stock by considering any dividends already paid and including the outstanding dividends accumulated over a specific period.

Advantages of Cumulative Dividends

Cumulative dividends offer several key advantages to investors:

  • Income stability: The fixed dividend rate provides reliable income for investors. Since any unpaid dividends accumulate, investors are eventually paid the full dividend owed to them. This results in stable dividend income, even if the company occasionally defers payments.
  • Seniority over common dividends: Preferred shares enjoy a higher level of priority or seniority compared to common shares when it comes to dividend payments within a company. Companies must pay all cumulative dividends owed before they can pay a common stock dividend. This seniority reduces the dividend risk for preferred shareholders.
  • Compounding dividends: Unpaid cumulative dividends accumulate and compound over time. For example, if a company defers a dividend payment in year 1, that unpaid dividend would accumulate. In year 2, the investor receives both the original missed dividend plus the stated dividend for year 2. This compounding effect increases the effective dividend yield over time.

Disadvantages of Cumulative Dividends

Cumulative dividends come with some potential drawbacks for companies that issue them. Here are some drawbacks:

  • Cash flow difficulties: When companies commit to ensuring dividend payments, they may encounter cash flow problems if business conditions worsen. Unpaid cumulative dividends accumulate as liabilities on the balance sheet and must be resolved.
  • Limited reinvestment opportunities: Reinvesting profits into business companies is sometimes required for growth. However, growth could be restricted to distribute cumulative dividends. This restricts the capital for research, expansion, and other investments necessary for growth.
  • Increased cost of capital: Dividends expose companies to financial risk and constraints. Investors anticipate a higher return to offset the increased risk which in turn raises the companys cost of capital. Moreover the mandatory dividend payments limit the flexibility of cash flow. The fixed obligation of paying dividends also reduces cash flow flexibility.

Companies must weigh the benefits of offering cumulative dividends against these drawbacks. Guaranteed dividends can attract investors and create dividend obligations that show company profitability and persist even when business conditions decline. However, companies with unstable earnings may find the inflexibility of cumulative dividends too risky.

Stocks with Cumulative Dividends

Preferred stocks and REITs, such as real estate investment trusts, are often known for offering cumulative dividends. Let's take a look at a few examples of stocks that fall into this category:

Preferred Stocks


Other Sectors

Suspending Cumulative Dividends

Companies cannot arbitrarily suspend cumulative dividends at any time. Specific conditions must be met for a company's creditors to legally suspend dividend payments.

Conditions for Suspending Cumulative Dividends

  • The company must be facing financial distress and unable to pay the accumulated dividends. This may happen during an economic recession.
  • The board of directors must authorize suspending the dividends. They should determine if it is in the best interests of the company.
  • Preferred shareholders must approve suspending the dividends with a majority vote. All classes of preferred stockholders affected must vote.
  • The company's charter must allow for suspending cumulative dividends. Some charters prohibit suspending dividends.

Consequences of Suspending Cumulative Dividends

  • Dividends will accumulate over time while suspended. The company takes on more financial obligations.
  • Preferred shareholders may be unhappy with suspended dividends. However, they maintain their claim over assets versus common shareholders.
  • The company cannot distribute dividends for stock until it settles all preferred dividend payments.
  • In the future, the company might encounter challenges in issuing preferred shares. Potential investors may have concerns about a recurrence of missed dividend payments.

Resuming Cumulative Dividend Payments

  • The company must satisfy all cumulative dividends in arrears before resuming payments to common shareholders.
  • The board of directors must approve reinstating the preferred dividends. This usually happens when financial conditions improve.
  • The board must demonstrate that preferred dividends will be paid if the company wants to resume common stock dividends.
  • Resuming dividends is a positive signal and can improve the company's reputation with investors. However, future issues of preferred shares may contain more stringent protections.

Cumulative Dividends vs Non-Cumulative

Cumulative and non-cumulative dividends have some key differences that investors should understand:

Key Differences

  • Cumulative dividends refer to dividends that can accumulate and grow if not paid out, whereas non-cumulative dividends do not accumulate over time.
  • To distribute any dividends, any outstanding cumulative dividends must be settled first. However, there is no obligation for cumulative dividends.
  • Although companies are required to pay accumulated dividends, they can suspend cumulative dividends.

Pros and Cons

  • Cumulative dividends offer some advantages:
    • The compounding and accumulation aspect of dividends provides investors with a dependable and steady flow of dividend income. This gives them confidence that they will eventually receive all the dividend payments.
  • Nevertheless, it's essential to acknowledge that there are drawbacks to accumulated dividends;
    • When unpaid dividends accumulate, it reduces profits and the available cash for distribution among shareholders. This can affect the company's working capital. Potentially restrict the amount of dividends paid to common shareholders.
    • Accumulated dividends decrease profits and cash available for common shareholders.
    • Companies may struggle to make large catch-up dividend payments after suspending cumulative dividends.
    • Cumulative dividends represent a larger financial obligation for companies.
  • Non-cumulative dividends offer other pros and cons:
    • Companies have more flexibility to suspend dividends during financial difficulty.
    • Common shareholders do not have claims over assets and earnings like cumulative preferred shareholders.
    • Investors face more uncertainty regarding dividend payments each period.

Investors must understand the distinctions among the types of dividends so that they can make informed decisions regarding their investment portfolios. Moreover companies carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of dividend policies when determining their steps.

Cumulative Dividend Yield

This method used to estimate the expected earnings an investor could receive from a stock or fund. It considers both the total amount of dividends already paid out and any remaining accrued dividends. This is the formula to calculate the cumulative dividend yield:

Cumulative Dividend Yield =( (D1 x N1) + (D2 x N2) + ... + (Dn x Nn))/ Market Price


  • D = Annual dividend rate for each period
  • N = Number of periods
  • n = Each period
  • Market Price = Current market price per share

This shows that the cumulative dividend yield sums up the total accumulated dividends over all periods and is divided by the current share price.


When do companies distribute dividends?

Companies normally have a schedule for dividend distributions. It's crucial to understand that these payouts are not always assured and the companies may decide to distribute any accrued dividends before giving payments to shareholders.

Can a company change or suspend cumulative dividends?

A company cannot change the dividend rate set for cumulative preferred shares when issued. However, companies can suspend cumulative dividend payments for some time due to financial difficulties. Any suspended dividends will accumulate as dividends in arrears and should be paid before common shareholders receive dividends again.

What happens if a company never pays the cumulative dividends?

If a company never pays the accumulated cumulative dividends, the preferred shareholders have priority in receiving their dividends if the company is liquidated. Their claims on dividends must be settled before common shareholders receive any proceeds from liquidation.

Do cumulative dividends get paid before bonds?

Cumulative preferred dividends get paid after interest due to bondholders is paid. Bonds usually have higher priority than preferred shares in the capital structure. However, cumulative dividends must be paid before common equity dividends or stock buybacks occur.

How do cumulative dividends impact the share price?

The accumulation of unpaid cumulative dividends can raise the share price of the preferred stock above its par value. The price reflects that cumulative preferred stocks' shareholders must eventually receive all accrued dividends before common shareholders are paid dividends.

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