Preferred Stock: What It Is and How It Differs from Common Stock

BY TIO Staff

|May 29, 2024

Investing in the stock market offers a variety of options, each with its own set of characteristics and benefits. Among these options, preferred stock and common stock stand out as two fundamental categories that investors should understand. This article delves into the nature of preferred stock, its unique features, and how it contrasts with common stock, providing a clear and concise exploration of these investment vehicles.

Understanding Preferred Stock

Preferred stock represents a class of ownership in a corporation that has a higher claim on its assets and earnings than common stock. Preferred shareholders enjoy advantages that are not available to holders of common stock, including potential dividends and priority in asset distribution.

Characteristics of Preferred Stock

Preferred stock combines features of both equity and debt, making it a hybrid security. It typically pays fixed dividends, which are similar to interest payments on debt, and has a par value that influences its dividend payments.

Unlike common stock, preferred stock does not usually confer voting rights to its holders, limiting their influence on corporate governance. This distinction underscores the trade-off between the potential for higher, stable returns and the lack of control over company decisions.

Types of Preferred Stock

There are several variations of preferred stock, each designed to meet specific investor needs. Cumulative preferred stock, for example, accumulates unpaid dividends, ensuring that preferred shareholders are paid in full before common shareholders receive any dividends. Convertible preferred stock, on the other hand, can be converted into a predetermined number of common shares, usually at the discretion of the shareholder.

Other types include callable preferred stock, which can be redeemed by the issuing company at a predetermined price, and participating preferred stock, which offers the potential for additional dividends under certain conditions.

Differences Between Preferred and Common Stock

The distinctions between preferred and common stock are crucial for investors to understand, as they affect the risk and return profile of their investments.

Dividend Payments

One of the primary differences lies in dividend payments. Preferred stock typically offers fixed dividends, which provides a more predictable income stream compared to the variable dividends of common stock. This fixed income feature makes preferred stock similar to bonds, appealing to investors seeking stability.

However, because dividends on preferred stock are fixed, shareholders may not benefit from increases in the company's profitability to the same extent as common shareholders.

Voting Rights and Control

Common stockholders usually have voting rights that allow them to influence corporate governance, including board elections and major policy decisions. Preferred shareholders, in contrast, generally do not have voting rights, which limits their control over the company.

This lack of voting rights can be a significant drawback for investors who wish to have a say in the company's direction, but it may be acceptable for those primarily interested in income.

Risk and Return Profile

Preferred stock is often considered less risky than common stock because of its priority in dividend payments and asset distribution. However, this lower risk comes with a trade-off in terms of return potential. Common stock can offer higher returns through dividend growth and capital appreciation, especially in a thriving company.

Investors must weigh these factors against their investment goals and risk tolerance when choosing between preferred and common stock.

Pros and Cons of Investing in Preferred Stock

Investing in preferred stock offers several advantages but also comes with certain limitations.

Advantages of Preferred Stock

  • Stable Dividends: The fixed dividend payments provide a steady income stream, which is attractive to income-focused investors.
  • Priority Over Common Stock: In the event of bankruptcy, preferred shareholders are paid out before common shareholders, reducing the risk of loss.
  • Potential for Convertibility: Convertible preferred stock offers the opportunity to participate in the company's equity appreciation.

Disadvantages of Preferred Stock

  • No Voting Rights: Most preferred stocks do not offer voting rights, limiting shareholders' influence over corporate decisions.
  • Capped Dividend Payments: The fixed dividend rate means shareholders may not benefit from increases in the company's profitability.
  • Call Risk: Callable preferred stock can be redeemed by the issuer, potentially at an inopportune time for the investor.

Additional Considerations for Preferred Stock Investors

When considering preferred stock as an investment option, there are additional factors that investors should take into account to make informed decisions.

Interest Rate Environment

The prevailing interest rate environment can impact the attractiveness of preferred stock. In a low-interest-rate environment, the fixed dividends offered by preferred stock may be more appealing to investors seeking stable income. Conversely, in a rising interest rate environment, the fixed nature of preferred stock dividends could become less attractive compared to other investment opportunities.

Company Financial Health

Assessing the financial health of the issuing company is crucial for preferred stock investors. Since preferred shareholders have a higher claim on assets and earnings than common shareholders, it is essential to evaluate the company's ability to meet its dividend obligations and support the preferred stock's value.

Market Conditions and Liquidity

Market conditions and liquidity can also impact preferred stock investments. While preferred stock is generally less liquid than common stock, investors should consider the availability of buyers and sellers in the market, as well as any potential impact on pricing and trading volumes.

Tax Implications of Preferred Stock

Preferred stock investments may have specific tax implications that investors need to be aware of when incorporating them into their portfolios.

Dividend Tax Treatment

Dividend income from preferred stock is typically taxed at a different rate than interest income from bonds or common stock dividends. Investors should consult with a tax advisor to understand the tax implications of preferred stock dividends and how they may affect their overall tax liability.

Capital Gains Tax

If an investor sells preferred stock at a profit, they may be subject to capital gains tax. The tax rate on capital gains can vary based on the holding period of the investment and the investor's tax bracket, so it is important to consider these factors when evaluating the potential tax impact of preferred stock transactions.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

Preferred stock dividends may also be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for certain investors. Understanding how the AMT applies to preferred stock income can help investors plan their tax strategies effectively and avoid unexpected tax liabilities.


Preferred stock offers a unique blend of features that can make it an attractive option for certain investors, particularly those seeking stable income with a higher priority claim than common stockholders. However, the lack of voting rights and the potential for capped returns compared to common stock are important considerations. By understanding the distinctions and carefully considering their investment goals, investors can make informed decisions about incorporating preferred stock into their portfolios.

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TIO Staff

Behind every blog post lies the combined experience of the people working at TIOmarkets. We are a team of dedicated industry professionals and financial markets enthusiasts committed to providing you with trading education and financial markets commentary. Our goal is to help empower you with the knowledge you need to trade in the markets effectively.

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