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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Filing taxes on interest and dividends

Interest and dividend income comes in a variety of forms and even with special terms, as is the case of non-taxable distributions. Each type of interest and dividend income is taxable in a different way and some interest income is tax exempt altogether. 

Figuring out how to record interest on tax forms can involve a few steps, a little research and some time with paperwork a calculator and a pencil. This article will attempt to simplify that process by illustrating the types of taxation on interest and by providing tips on dealing with and reporting interest and dividend income.

Taxable interest   

Taxable interest is reported on form 1099-INT's unless it is under $10.00 for the year in which case a financial institution is not obligated to send a form 1099. All interest income from savings, checking, money market or similar types of accounts, whether it be reported or not, should be reported as taxable interest to the Internal Revenue Service when tax filing. As the video that follows illustrates, an IRS Schedule B may be required for interest and/or dividend earnings above $1,500.

Tax exempt interest

Some financial instruments such as U.S. Treasury bonds may be tax deferred meaning interest accumulated on the bonds is not taxable until the bond's value is redeemed. This interest is tax exempt but is still required to be recorded on tax filing documents. Tax exempt interest is also reported to a form 1099-INT. Dividend income obtained through certain retirement accounts may also be tax exempt if not redeemed during the tax year.

Ordinary dividends

Dividends include payments from companies, of which the tax filer is or was a shareholder during the tax year. Ordinary dividends are not tax exempt are recorded on a form 1099-DIV which is sent to the tax filer. Ordinary dividends are taxable at the income tax rate of the taxable income and are thus treated as ordinary income for tax purposes.

Qualified dividends

Qualified dividends are not currently taxed at ordinary income levels. These types of dividends are taxed between 5%-15% and are consequently potentially advantageous to tax filers in higher tax brackets. Certain requirements determine whether or not ordinary dividends are treated as qualified dividends. More complete qualification criteria can be referred to using the source references in this article.

Tips on how to report interest on tax forms

Forms and documents: Having all the necessary forms before completing either the online or paper tax filing can be helpful. The forms and documents that may be needed include form 1099-INT's, 1099-DIV's, account statements, form 1040A, Schedule D, Schedule B, form 1065 or 1120S, and form 4952. Some of these forms i.e. the 1120S and 4952 are for business dividend income only.

Non-dividend distributions: Certain companies such as Mortgage Real Estate Investment Trusts allow for dividends to be treated more like a cost adjustment for capital gains. What this means is the income received as non taxable distributions is only taxable as a capital gain once it reaches a dollar amount higher than the initial cost of investment. These types of distributions can hold significant tax advantages in high volumes of cost. Non-taxable distributions will also offset tax benefits of capital losses.

Qualified dividends: To ensure the correct taxation of qualified dividends complete the qualified dividends and capital gain tax worksheet in the form 1040 instruction manual. These instructions are available through the IRS website.

Tax strategy: Developing a tax strategy can offset taxation of interest income through tax hedges such as deferred dividend income accounts or instruments i.e. some Government bonds, and/or retirement accounts. Insuring an acceptable level of income i.e. unneeded income remains in such accounts can help keep one's taxes more reasonable.

Resources: Making use of free resources such as the Internal Revenue Service question line, online resources and free access publications can assist with minimizing and managing taxation of interest income. If necessary and in the case of doubt, a tax accountant or professional may provided additional insight and information.

To summarize, interest and dividend income is complicated by tax regulation that treats different types of income differently. That is to say, some interest income is taxable while other interest income is tax deferred or tax exempt. This article provides information on the types of interest rate based and dividend income, however does not replace the advice of a tax professional. Knowing the differences between each is not only essential to proper taxation, but also in developing an advantageous tax strategy that may help a tax filer achieve a lower tax payment and/or reduce taxable income.


1. http://www.irs.gov
2. http://www.usa-investment-tax.com/taxation_dividends.asp
3. http://www.missouribusiness.net/irs/taxmap/pub17/p17-041.htm
4. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4952.pdf
5. http://www.googobits.com/articles/p2-1371-how-are-dividends-and-other-corporate-distributions-taxed.html