In the simplest sense, you only need to own a stock for two business days to get a dividend payout. Technically, you could even buy a stock with one second left before the market close and still be entitled to the dividend when the market opens two business days later. However, buying a stock just for a dividend can prove costly. To understand the entire process, you'll have to understand the terms ex-dividend date, record date and payout date.
The ex-dividend date is the date that stock shares trade without the dividend. Shareholders who buy a stock on the ex-dividend date are not entitled to the next dividend payout. Since these shareholders miss out on one of the assets that make a stock valuable, the stock price drops by the amount of the quarterly dividend on the ex-dividend date.
For example, a stock that pays a $1 annual dividend pays that dividend in four quarterly amounts of $0.25 each. If the stock's closing price the day before the ex-dividend date if $50 per share, that stock will be marked down to $49.75 at the next day's opening.
The record date is the date that your name needs to be on the company's books as a registered shareholder. The record date is set one business day after the ex-dividend date. So, to be officially recorded as a shareholder entitled to the next quarter's dividend, you must buy a stock two business days before the record date.
A stock's payout date is the day you actually receive your dividend. As long as you buy the stock before the ex-dividend date, which means you'll be a shareholder of record by the record date, you'll receive your dividend on the payout date.
Buying Stocks for Dividends
If you buy a stock the day before the ex-dividend date, you're entitled to the next dividend. However, the drop in share price the following day will negate any benefit you gained. In fact, it could make things worse for you financially due to taxation.
The dividend you're entitled to when you buy a stock the day before the ex-dividend date will be an ordinary dividend. This means the dividend will be taxed at your ordinary income tax rate, the same as your wages or salary. Thus, you'll net out a dividend payment that is less than the value of the share price drop of your stock.
Once you hold your stock for at least 60 days, your ordinary dividend may become a qualified dividend, which receives a more favorable tax rate. Over the short-term, however, buying a stock before it goes ex-dividend can prove costly.