Preferred Stock vs. Common Stock: The Critical Differences

Preferred Stock vs. Common Stock: The Critical Differences

Last updated September 16th, 2019.

5 minute read

Preferred stock grants no voting rights to shareholders, while common stock does. The main benefit of preferred stock is that it grants shareholders priority of the company’s income. This means preferred stocks are paid dividends before common stock; preferred stocks are also paid out before common stocks in the event of a liquidation.

So, what is preferred stock? This is another type of security along with common stocks and bonds. This type of stock is sort of halfway in between the two. It shares some of the advantages – and disadvantages – of both.

Preferred Stock Pros

Institutional investors buy the majority of this type of stock. That is in large part because they can exclude 70% of dividends from their taxable income. Despite this advantage, it is also available to individual investors.

One of the biggest pros for preferred stock is exactly what its name implies. When dividends are paid out, these shares are given preference over common stock.

If a company experiences financial hardship, preferred stock has priority over common stock. This can be beneficial in the event of a liquidation. They don’t take precedence over bonds in this case, however.

Another benefit is that these shares can be converted to common stock. The reason this a benefit is that common stock can’t be converted to preferred stock.

In some cases, if a company has to stop issuing dividends, they must pay all dividends owed to preferred shareholders before they can pay dividends to common shareholders. This is what’s known as cumulative preferred.

Note that not all preferred shared work this way; they can also be non-cumulative.

Preferred Stock Cons

Although preferred stock has some features that could make them attractive, they also have drawbacks. These drawbacks are arguably what make them less common than common stock and bonds.

Despite taking precedence over common stock with respect to dividend payouts, preferred stock carries no voting rights. This means that shareholders will be unable to partake in the decision-making process.

Another drawback of preferred shares is their limited growth potential. This is another way in which they are similar to bonds. Though their price will be more stable than that of common stock, it also won’t increase as much as the company grows.

Common Stock Benefits

Arguably the most attractive quality of common stock is its growth potential. In a healthy market, common stock has some of the best growth potential of any asset class. This is why so many individual investors flock to them.

In addition, just as the lack of voting rights is a con for preferred, common stock does have this right. Many individual investors may never exercise this right, but it’s a benefit for common stock, at least in theory.

This is the easiest way for the average investor to get started. As such, it makes sense that they’re the most popular.

Common Stock Drawbacks

Yet again, many of the drawbacks for common shares are also benefits of preferred shares.

Although growth potential is greater for them, they can also fall further during a market correction. Common stock value can be difficult to predict, but that is part of the risk that allows them greater reward potential.

They will also be last in line to receive dividends. Additionally, if a company were to liquidate, they would have lower priority over its assets compared to preferred stocks.

Callability and Interest Rates

One “feature” of preferred stock is that they may be callable. This means they can be purchased by the issuer and par value before their end date.

The issuer can then issue new shares with a lower yield. These shares are not always callable, but it’s something the investor must keep in mind.

In addition, when interest rates fall, preferred stock goes up in value. The opposite is also true. This is different from common stock, where value is determined by the market. That could make preferred shares better in a declining market.

Other Considerations

As you can see, it makes sense in a way that these preferred shares are less common than other securities. They are less volatile than common stock but have less growth potential.

At the same time, they’re more stable like bonds but have lower seniority.

Should You Buy Preferred Stock?

For the individual investor, common stock is generally better. The reason for this is they have better growth potential. Thus, someone who is looking to accumulate wealth would turn to this option.

Yes, it’s true that they can be less risky since they pay out before common stocks if a company goes under. They also receive dividends first. At the same time, one looking to reduce their risk can simply add bonds to their portfolio.

Unless the individual investor relying on dividend income, it probably makes more sense stick to the more typical common stock.

Nevertheless, it’s always good to have more options. In addition, you should be aware of the differences between them and the benefits of each.

How Can You Buy Preferred Stock?

Although common stock is generally better for the individual investor, it’s possible you may still want to buy preferred stock.

Generally, if you buy index funds, you will not be buying preferred shares. The easiest way to buy preferred stock is as you normally would through a brokerage, whether online or “offline.”

If you happen to work with a stock broker directly, you can also contact them and ask about preferred stock.

Although index funds such as VTSAX do not contain preferred stock, there are actually ETFs that bundle preferred stocks together.

You May “Prefer” a Different Option

While there are some scenarios in which preferred stock makes sense, that probably isn’t the case for the average individual investor. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand all of the different types of stock.

Preferred stock sits somewhere in between common stock and bonds in terms of both riskiness and average return. It also lacks some of the benefits of each, which is why it may be difficult to find a place in your portfolio for it.

However, if you are interested, you can find preferred stock within a brokerage just as you would common stock. There are even preferred stock ETFs.

Because, at the end of the day, it’s always good to have options.

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Hey there. My name is Bob Haegele and I blog about personal finance here at The Frugal Fellow. I’m also an alternative energy and EV enthusiast and have recently become semi-vegetarian. Another thing I started doing recently? Dog walking. I’m now doing that as a side hustle and loving it! I’m now working toward financial independence making money via my own ventures. If you’d like to work together, send me an email.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. I had never heard of this before, but it makes sense there would be some sort of option between common stocks and bonds. Thanks for explaining! Since my mom decided to retire on the fly, I’m trying to help her understand a couple of things about investing. While I don’t mind understanding this option, I think if I tell it to her she’ll just get more confused.

    So I’ll probably just say – get more of the pie in bonds now please!

    1. Yep, well, just trying to “answer the public” – this one seems to get searched a lot. For most “regular” people, though, index funds and bonds are probably still the best bet.

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