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Dividends on ETFs

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  • Exchange-Traded Funds
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If you own shares in an exchange-traded fund (ETF), you may receive distributions in the form of dividends. These may be paid monthly or at some other interval, depending on the ETF you own. Not all dividends are treated the same from a tax perspective.

Types of dividends

There are two basic types of dividends issued to investors of ETFs:

  • Qualified dividends: These are dividends designated by the ETF as qualified, which means they qualify to be taxed at 15% (or zero for an investor in the 10% or 15% tax bracket; 20% for those in the 39.6% bracket starting in 2013). These dividends are paid on stock held by the ETF. The ETF must own the underlying stock for more than 60 days during the 121-day period that begins 60 days before the ex-dividend date. And the investor must own the shares in the ETF paying the dividend for more than 60 days during the 121-day period that begins 60 days before the ex-dividend date. If you actively trade ETFs, you probably can’t meet this holding requirement.
  • Nonqualified dividends: These are dividends not designated by the ETF as qualified (e.g., they may have been payable on stock held by the ETF for 60 days or less). They are taxed at your ordinary income rates. Basically, nonqualified dividends are the amount of total dividends minus any portion of the total dividends treated as qualified dividends.
    Note: While qualified dividends are taxed at the same rate at capital gains, they cannot be used to offset capital losses.

Other ETF distributions

Depending on the type of ETF, other distributions to investors may not be qualified dividends. Here are a couple of examples of other types of distributions from ETFs:

  • Fixed income ETFs pay interest, not dividends.
  • Real estate investment trust (REIT) ETFs typically pay nonqualified dividends (although a portion may be qualified).

Dividend ETFs

A dividend ETF is made up of dividend-paying stocks; it usually tracks a dividend index. This ETF pays dividends to investors, which can be qualified or nonqualified dividends, as explained earlier.

Reinvesting ETF dividends

You can choose to use your ETF dividends to acquire more shares in the same ETF. However, there may be commissions for reinvesting dividends. Check with the brokerage firm or other financial institution at which you hold ETFs.

Reporting dividends

The brokerage firm or other financial institution at which you hold ETFs must report annually to the IRS and to you the payment of dividends of $10 or more (some institutions automatically report all dividends). Form 1099-DIV, Dividends and Distributions, is used for this purpose.

NII tax

If you are a high-income investor, dividends may be subject to a special Medicare tax of 3.8%, in addition to any income tax on the dividends. This tax applies to net investment income and is called the NII tax.

Conclusion

If you receive a substantial amount of dividends from ETFs, you may need to pay quarterly estimated taxes. Work with your tax advisor to assess your estimated tax needs and to be sure that you properly report your ETF dividends on your tax return.

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Article copyright 2011 by J.K. Lasser Tax Institute. Reprinted and adapted from J.K. Lasser’s Your Income Tax 2012 with permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc. The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Fidelity Investments® cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any statements or data. This reprint and the materials delivered with it should not be construed as an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy shares of any funds mentioned in this reprint.
The data and analysis contained herein are provided "as is" and without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied. Fidelity is not adopting, making a recommendation for or endorsing any trading or investment strategy or particular security. All opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice, and you should always obtain current information and perform due diligence before trading. Consider that the provider may modify the methods it uses to evaluate investment opportunities from time to time, that model results may not impute or show the compounded adverse effect of transaction costs or management fees or reflect actual investment results, and that investment models are necessarily constructed with the benefit of hindsight. For this and for many other reasons, model results are not a guarantee of future results. The securities mentioned in this document may not be eligible for sale in some states or countries, nor be suitable for all types of investors; their value and the income they produce may fluctuate and/or be adversely affected by exchange rates, interest rates or other factors.
The tax information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. Fidelity cannot guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a specific state or laws that may be applicable to a particular situation may affect the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of this information. Federal and state laws and regulations are complex and are subject to change. Changes in such laws and regulations may have a material impact on pre- and/or after-tax investment results. Always consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation.

ETFs may trade at a discount to their NAV and are subject to the market fluctuations of their underlying investments. ETFs are subject to management fees and other expenses.
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