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The 6 Biggest Problems with Dividend Investing

Baptiste Wicht | Updated: |

(Disclosure: Some of the links below may be affiliate links)

Many people invest only in dividend-paying stocks. Specifically, they only invest in stocks with a good history of paying dividends. This means that these stocks do not cut dividends.

They expect investing in these stocks will yield more returns than investing in the broad stock market. Some people plan to retire entirely based on dividends.

As a result, many people ask why I do not invest in dividend stocks instead of investing in the broad market. The reason is that there are several problems with dividend investing. So I talk about these problems in detail in this article.

1. Dividends are not tax-efficient

This first problem may depend on where you pay taxes. But in Switzerland, dividends are not tax-efficient.

In Switzerland, dividends are taxed as income. In your tax declaration, they get added to your income as a part of your taxable income. They are not taxed at a fixed rate but based on your marginal tax rate. So, if you have a large income, you can expect your dividends to be taxed at more than 30%. This is a large tax on investing.

Also, if you receive a lot of dividends, you will increase your marginal tax rate and, as such, get taxed more and more for your future dividends.

On the other hand, capital gains are tax-free in Switzerland (in most cases). When you are focused on dividend stocks, you are focused on getting dividends (income) instead of capital gains. So, you are trading tax-free growth for taxed growth. This will significantly lower the returns of your dividends.

Therefore, capital gains are more tax-efficient than dividends, at least in Switzerland.

2. Dividends reduce your diversification

If you are only investing in stocks with a good dividend-paying history, you are limiting yourself to a subset of the stock market. As such, you are reducing your diversification.

Diversification is the best way to increase your returns and reduce the volatility of your portfolio. It is also straightforward to diversify an ETF portfolio and simply invest in the entire world stock market. With this, we have diversification in several areas: international, industry, and even currency.

There are two ways to invest in dividend stocks:

  1. Invest directly in the stocks
  2. Invest in dividend funds

Either of these ways will have lower diversification than investing in the entire stock market. If you invest in a fund, you will likely have a better diversification than when investing directly in stocks. But, you will still get limited to only some companies that pay companies. And many companies with great returns do not pay dividends.

Some people will argue that having more than 50 stocks is not necessary for getting the benefits of diversification. This is true for the returns part of diversification. But diversification also reduces the dispersion of your outcomes.

A well-diversified portfolio is more likely to hit its average outcome. On the other hand, a portfolio with lower diversification is less likely to reach its average outcome. And this dispersion is still reduced even when you already have many stocks.

Dividend investors think that companies with a good dividend-paying historyy will have higher future returns.

However, there is no basis or empirical evidence that this is true. In practice, dividends do not explain future returns. Just because a company pays good dividends does not tell you anything about the future returns of owning their stocks.

Some dividend portfolios have indeed performed better than the market at times. But this was never due to the dividends, only to the factors that the investors were focused on.

4. Dividends force you to withdraw

When you focus on dividends, you often get large amounts of cash. When focusing on growth, you choose when you want to get cash.

During the accumulation phase, you want all your money to be in the stock market as much as possible. When you receive a dividend, you must return to your broker account and reinvest it in the stock market.

On the other hand, capital gains stay in the market. They have the advantage of letting you choose when you want to get money out of the market.

Some people argue that in a downturn, it is better to receive dividends than to sell shares. But these two are the same thing. If you get dividends from a stock, the value of the stock will decrease accordingly. The same as if you sold shares of this company.

5. Dividend stocks are expensive

Dividend investing is so popular, especially in the United States, that it drove the prices of companies paying dividends.

These days, the biggest dividend-paying stocks are extremely expensive simply because they pay dividends, and so many investors are buying into them regardless of other factors.

If you compare the price-to-earnings or price-to-book ratios of the most popular dividend funds, you can see that they are sometimes more than 50% more expensive than the stock market average.

6. Dividends are misunderstood

This is not directly a problem with dividends but rather some misconceptions by many investors about dividends. Indeed, many people do not understand dividends properly.

A dividend stock is not a bond! The first misconception is that some people believe that dividends are guaranteed. They are not. The dividend yield of a stock is simply the average historical dividends that the company paid. There is absolutely no guarantee that the company will pay the next dividends. Companies are free to change the dividends they are paying on each dividend period. If they are running out of money, they can entirely cut the dividends.

The highest-yielding dividends are not necessarily better! In general, a dividend investor will want stocks with higher yields. However, there are many exceptions. The highest-yielding stocks are generally also the riskiest and most volatile.

Dividend stocks are not always safer than average! The top stocks with the best dividend history are safer than the average stock market. However, not all stocks with good dividends are safe. Several stocks with a good dividend history have completely collapsed.

Should we avoid dividends?

So, with these six big problems with dividends, should we hate and avoid dividends? No!

Dividends are an important part of total returns. And dividends are always nice to receive. They can be extremely useful in retirement.

What we should avoid is investing specifically in companies based on their dividend history. We should invest in the broader stock market with low-cost index funds. This is the most efficient way to invest for most investors.

Conclusion

These are the six biggest problems with dividend investing. For me, dividend investing is nothing more than stock picking. Even if you invest through an index fund, this index picks stocks. There is no basis indicating that future returns are better for companies with a good dividend history.

Dividend investing is especially ill-advised in Switzerland, where dividends are significantly tax-heavy than capital gains.

But this does not mean that dividends are bad. They are an important part of the stock market and the returns we receive from the stock market. However, it means that we should not focus on dividend-paying stocks but rather focus on the broader stock market.

What do you think about dividend investing? Are you investing in dividend stocks?

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Baptiste Wicht started thepoorswiss.com in 2017. He realized that he was falling into the trap of lifestyle inflation. He decided to cut his expenses and increase his income. This blog is relating his story and findings. In 2019, he is saving more than 50% of his income. He made it a goal to reach Financial Independence. You can send Mr. The Poor Swiss a message here.

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21 thoughts on “The 6 Biggest Problems with Dividend Investing”

  1. Hello! Do you know how can I claim back the dividend taxation applied by Degiro at source?
    Which is the procedure in the tax declaration and which documents are needed?
    Thank you!

  2. Hi Baptiste, Thank you for the best knowledge source on investing in Switzerland.

    A friend of mine tentatively told me that when one uses non-Swiss broker in Switzerland, one cannot reclaim that 15% tax fraction from dividends from the US shares. However, provided that you use Interactive Brokers it does not seem to be true.

    Could you clarify: are there any problems or gotchas with reclaiming the tax?

    Do I understand correctly, that the dividends from the US funds effectively have lower taxes than other dividends (and income)?

    As an article idea, you could cover investment-specific aspects of Swiss taxation. You have a lot of valuable information on the topic here and there, but compiling it in a single place could be very valuable to the audience.

    1. Hi Alexey,

      It’s indeed no true. You can reclaim the 15% without any issues. There are some gotchas because there is a mimimum of 100 CHF to reclaim and some cantons have different exceptions. But overall, using a non-Swiss broker is not an issue.

      The dividends from the US funds have the same Swiss taxes. Every dividend is taxed as income.
      The difference is in the withholding tax and whether you can reclaim it.

      I think I have already covered all investment-specific aspects of Swiss taxations:
      * Dividend taxes in this article
      * Dividend witholding for US ETFs
      * Capital gains taxes
      * Stamp Duty

      Anything else you would like to cover?

      1. Thank you for the reply.

        So if I understand correctly the workflow with dividend taxation is following:

        * You submit W8-Ben form to the US tax authorities (supposedly via your broker).
        * The US reduces the dividend tax to 15% to you, according to the treaty of double taxation avoidance (in contrast with 30% for the non-treaty case). https://taxsummaries.pwc.com/united-states/corporate/withholding-taxes – the numbers for other countries.
        * You receive 1042-S form from the US tax authorities, via the broker.
        * You submit DA-1 form to the Swiss tax authorities (supposedly with the 1042-S attached).
        * The Swiss tax authorities reclaim the 15%, that you’ve already paid in the US.

        Wrt to the article idea, I have not yet filed a tax return in Switzerland. So I did not make my research if there are a good instructions for an investor. Maybe it’s not needed. Anyway, your blog + bogleheads.org provide sufficient information that allow to design an approach to investment for Swiss residents. Thanks for that!

  3. Interesting article. What are the tax implications of taking dividends as stock in Switzerland. I think these are referred to as stock dividends whereby your investment platform asks you if you wish to purchase additional shares prior to the dividend distribution.

    1. Are you talking about dividend reinvesting? That’s the same as receiving dividends and buying stocks with the money. From a tax perspective, it won’t make any difference.

  4. Hmm. So for a US expat in Switzerland, or anyone really, investing in BRK-B could be an interesting alternative to just index funds? No dividend, no extra paperwork, but still (probably) acts more or less like S&P 500

    1. Hi Joe,

      Yes, ETFs would be a great alternative to index funds. You still need a broker account and then buy and sell shares yourself, but it’s pretty convenient. And you can find S&P500 ETFs that will work well.

  5. You’re right, good article!
    It makes me think that I should study this at the level of a company (owing a company), knowing that it is taxed on profits and not on income, the results could be much more interesting.

  6. Is the tax “issue” valid also for ETF that distribute dividends or only for individual stock?

  7. Dear TPS,
    What are the main difference between dividends and Distributing ETF where you also get dividends out of the fund? Shouldn’t be some these problems analogous to the ETF distributing vs ETF accumulating that you presented previously ?

    1. Hi Tiago,

      Yes, some of these problems are analogous. But it’s not exactly the same thing since if you compare an accumulating ETF and a distributing ETF, they both receive the same dividends from the same companies, the difference is in what they do with it. But it’s true that a distributing ETF will force you to withdraw while the accumulating one will keep the money in the stock market.

  8. If a company is a good investment, i would expect them to put the money first into their own business.

    Next thing is that we in Switzerland really are better off not getting dividends due to the taxes. And you might be also charged by your broker for receiving dividends, heard some would do that.

    I think i would rather do the opposite, invest more in stocks that don’t pay dividends. That could be growth stocks (maybe nasdaq) or maybe buyback ETFs; they should also yield very low dividend returns.

    1. Hi Michael,

      It’s a good point about the fees from the brokers, I forgot to mention that. DEGIRO with its custody accounts will charge you for each dividend.
      I am not sure that selecting companies that do not pay dividends is much better. This is also a bet. But you could avoid companies that pay too much dividends.

    2. Hi Michael and Baptiste!
      Dividends don’t seem popular around here. Is it due to tax reasons? I am still studying the Swiss stock market. Other than that, let me defend dividends in other markets. Healthy companies that pay dividends also invest their profits back into the business. To build a successful dividend portfolio it’s important to study the company in deep, such as EBITDA, and keep an eye on the board’s decisions, not only regarding dividends but also to understand the future of the company, analyse the share cost x value, etc. Also, some industries such as retail and construction are a total no go due to the volatility of their core business. Estate owned companies are also questionable, since the direction might change according to politics. Yes, I do a serious homework before investing, but I am also quite happy with the results of my dividend portfolio. I don’t believe we need 50 companies in the portfolio. Spreading in 15-20 of different industries, bonds included, I believe we do just fine. Unless for tax reasons, I am totally dividend oriented. Sorry for the long post. I am very interested in this topic and was deeply disappointed in my initial studies when learning about all the taxation involved here in CH.

      1. That’s correct, dividends are taxed as income in Switzerland while capital gains are not taxed. This makes capital gains much superior to dividends.

        In other countries, I am sure you can do an efficient portfolio based on dividends. However, you can also do an efficient portfolio based on many factors. Dividends are just a factor for me.
        Dividends are an important part of the returns of the stock market, but for me, they should not be taken as direct criteria.

        Also keep in mind that I am a passive investor, so dividend funds are likely less researched than you strategy.

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