Taxation of Distributions

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on January 23, 2024

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Definition of Distributions

Distributions are payments made by corporations or other entities to their shareholders or partners, usually in the form of cash or additional shares. These payments can come from various sources, such as dividends, interest income, capital gains, or retirement account distributions.

Importance of Understanding Distribution Taxation

Understanding the taxation of distributions is essential for investors, as it helps them make informed decisions and minimize their tax liabilities. Properly accounting for taxes on distributions can result in significant tax savings and improve the overall return on investment.

Types of Distributions Subject to Taxation

There are several types of distributions that may be subject to taxation, including dividends, interest income, capital gains distributions, retirement account distributions, real estate investment trust (REIT) distributions, master limited partnership (MLP) distributions, and estate and trust distributions.

Tax Treatment of Different Types of Distributions


Ordinary Dividends

Ordinary dividends are typically taxed at the individual's ordinary income tax rate. They are usually paid out of a company's earnings and profits and are reported on Form 1099-DIV.

Qualified Dividends

Qualified dividends are subject to lower tax rates than ordinary dividends. They must meet specific holding period and ownership requirements and are generally taxed at the long-term capital gains rate, which is lower than the ordinary income tax rate.

Interest Income

Taxable Interest

Taxable interest is subject to federal income tax at the individual's ordinary income tax rate. Examples of taxable interest include interest from savings accounts, bonds, and certificates of deposit.

Tax-Exempt Interest

Some interest income is exempt from federal income tax, such as interest from certain municipal bonds. However, this income may still be subject to state and local taxes.

Capital Gains Distributions

Short-Term Capital Gains

Short-term capital gains distributions result from the sale of assets held for one year or less. These gains are taxed at the individual's ordinary income tax rate.

Long-Term Capital Gains

Long-term capital gains distributions arise from the sale of assets held for more than one year. They are generally taxed at a lower rate than short-term capital gains, depending on the individual's income level.

Retirement Account Distributions

Traditional IRA and 401(k) Distributions

Distributions from traditional IRAs and 401(k)s are generally subject to income tax at the individual's ordinary income tax rate, as these accounts are funded with pre-tax dollars.

Roth IRA and Roth 401(k) Distributions

Qualified distributions from Roth IRAs and Roth 401(k)s are tax-free, as these accounts are funded with after-tax dollars. However, non-qualified distributions may be subject to taxes and penalties.

Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs)

RMDs are mandatory withdrawals that individuals must take from their retirement accounts starting at age 72. These distributions are generally subject to income tax at the individual's ordinary income tax rate.

Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) Distributions

REIT distributions can include ordinary income, capital gains, and return of capital. Each type of income is taxed differently, with ordinary income taxed at the individual's ordinary income tax rate and capital gains taxed at the appropriate capital gains rate.

Master Limited Partnership (MLP) Distributions

MLP distributions are typically treated as a return of capital and are not taxed when received. However, they do reduce the investor's tax basis in the MLP units, potentially resulting in a higher capital gain when the units are sold.

Estate and Trust Distributions

Distributions from estates and trusts can include various types of income, such as interest, dividends, and capital gains. The tax treatment of these distributions depends on the nature of the income and the beneficiary's tax situation.

Tax Treatment of Different Types of Distributions

Tax Reporting Requirements for Distributions

Form 1099-DIV

Form 1099-DIV is used to report dividend income, including ordinary and qualified dividends, as well as capital gains distributions.

Form 1099-INT

Form 1099-INT is used to report interest income, both taxable and tax-exempt.

Form 1099-B

Form 1099-B is used to report the sale of securities, including capital gains and losses, as well as the basis of the securities sold.

Form 1099-R

Form 1099-R is used to report distributions from retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s.

Form 1040 and Schedule B

Individuals report their dividend and interest income on Form 1040 and may also need to complete Schedule B if their income exceeds certain thresholds.

Tax Planning Strategies for Distributions

Timing of Distributions

Investors can strategically time their distributions to minimize taxes, such as deferring income to a lower-tax year or accelerating deductions to offset income.

Tax-Loss Harvesting

Tax-loss harvesting involves selling losing investments to offset capital gains from winning investments, thereby reducing an investor's overall tax liability.

Utilizing Tax-Advantaged Accounts

Investors can take advantage of tax-advantaged accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, to defer taxes on investment income and gains.

Investing in Tax-Exempt Securities

Investing in tax-exempt securities, such as municipal bonds, can provide a source of tax-free income and help reduce an investor's overall tax liability.

Common Tax Issues and Challenges Related to Distributions

Double Taxation

Double taxation occurs when the same income is taxed twice, such as when corporate earnings are taxed at the corporate level and then again as dividends at the individual level.

Withholding Tax on Foreign Distributions

U.S. investors may be subject to withholding taxes on foreign distributions, which can create additional tax complexity and reporting requirements.

Taxation of Undistributed Earnings

Certain types of entities, such as controlled foreign corporations, may be subject to tax on their undistributed earnings, even if those earnings are not paid out as distributions.


Understanding the taxation of distributions is crucial for investors to make informed decisions, minimize tax liabilities, and maximize overall returns.

Investors and taxpayers should be aware of the various types of distributions, their tax treatment, and potential tax planning strategies to optimize their investment portfolios and tax situations.

By staying informed about changes in tax laws and regulations, as well as global tax reforms and technological advancements, investors can adapt their strategies to navigate the complex world of distribution taxation effectively.

Taxation of Distributions FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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