Acquiring Stock Through a DRIP

By Kaye A. Thomas
Current as of January 4, 2015

How to determine your basis and holding period for stock bought through a dividend reinvestment plan.

If you own stock through a dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP), any cash dividends you receive with respect to those shares will automatically be invested in additional shares (which may include fractional shares). At one time this opportunity was available only if you invested in a company that offered such a plan, and if you wanted dividend reinvestment for more than one stock, you had to invest in a different plan for each stock. You can still invest in plans for individual companies, but many brokerage firms now offer a DRIP, making it possible to adopt this method for many different stocks held in the same account, including stock of companies that don’t offer their own DRIP.

These plans differ from one company to the next and one broker to the next. Be sure to read the details before signing up.

Two important points

Here are a couple of points to be clear about when investing through a DRIP.

  • You’re the owner. As a formal matter, a DRIP may hold your shares in a trust, but if so, the trust is disregarded for tax purposes. You’re the owner of the shares and pay tax on the dividends.
  • Stock dividends are different. Sometimes companies pay dividends in stock. When a company pays a stock dividend, all shareholders receive stock, whether they hold shares in a DRIP or not. That’s a different situation with different tax rules. Investing in a DRIP does not mean you’re receiving stock dividends. It just means your dividends are being used to buy additional shares of stock.

Tax changes as of 2012

Prior to 2012, shares held in a DRIP were subject to the same basis rules that apply to other shares of stock. Beginning in 2012, they’re subject to the rules that apply to mutual fund shares. Most importantly, this means the average basis method can apply to these shares. And even if you don’t use the average basis method, the broker or other reporting entity will be required to track your basis and holding period for newer shares, so your recordkeeping burden for these shares will be greatly reduced.

The requirement for the broker to report basis applies only to covered shares, which for DRIPs generally means shares acquired after 2011, so if your DRIP investments go back farther than that, determining basis on the older shares will be your responsibility. You should also be aware that if you use averaging, the basis of noncovered shares won’t be averaged together with the basis of covered shares.

Discounts

Some companies encourage participation in their dividend reinvestment plans by offering a small discount on shares purchase through the plan. The discount is treated as an additional dividend and included in your basis for the stock.

Example: You receive a $95 dividend from a company that provides a 5% discount for shares purchased through its DRIP. At this discount, the dividend will buy $100 worth of stock, so you’re taxed on a total dividend of $100 and your basis for these shares is also $100.

You may also receive additional dividend (and basis) if the company pays brokerage commissions on behalf of DRIP investors.

Service charges

If you participate in a DRIP that imposes a service charge, this charge is not included in the basis of shares you buy through the plan. Instead, it is an investment expense, which you may claim as a deduction subject to the limitations that apply to investment expense deductions.


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