Common Stock vs Preferred Stock: Understanding the Risks and Rewards

In the world of investing, it’s common to hear terms like ‘preferred stock’ and ‘common stock’. But what’s the difference between the two? Let’s break it down.

Common stock is what most people think of when they hear the term ‘stock’. It’s a form of corporate equity ownership, a type of security. Preferred stock, on the other hand, is a bit different. It’s also a type of equity ownership, but it comes with a higher claim on the assets and earnings of a company.

Understanding the distinction between these two types of stocks is essential for savvy investors. It can impact the returns you see on your investments and the risks you’re willing to take. So, let’s dive in and explore the differences between preferred and common stock.

What is Common Stock?

When you start to dip your toes into the investment world, you’ll come across two main types of stocks: common and preferred. We’ve already discussed what preferred stock is, now let’s turn our attention to common stock.

Common stock is, well, common. It’s the most frequently encountered type of stock when investing. When someone refers to “stocks”, they’re typically talking about common stock. So, what are the specifics?

Ownership and Voting Rights

When you buy common stock, you’re buying a piece of the company. You’re now a shareholder, and this gives you a say in the company’s future. That’s right, common stock often comes with voting rights. You can weigh in on a variety of corporate matters, like electing the company’s board of directors.

However, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Common stock shareholders are at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to payouts. If the company goes under and assets are sold off, common stockholders are the last in line to get their share.

Dividends and Potential for Growth

Another reason many investors opt for common stock is the potential for growth. If the company does well, the value of the stock could rise and this means you could make a profit if you decide to sell your stock. Keep in mind that the flip side is also true. If the company doesn’t do well, the stock’s value could plummet.

Common stock may or may not pay dividends. Unlike preferred stock, where dividends are usually guaranteed, common stock dividends are never a sure thing. The company’s board decides on whether to give common stock dividends and this can be an inconsistent process.

As we continue to examine the difference between preferred stock and common stock, you’ll start to see how these factors might sway your investment choice.

What is Preferred Stock?

When we’re looking at the grand universe of stocks, there’s another important type to consider – preferred stock. This type of stock is somewhat of an interesting blend, like the middle child attempting to achieve a nice balance between risk and reward.

Preferred stockholders sit in the middle of the priority ladder, meaning they get paid dividends before common stockholders. Yes, I said, ‘before.’ Dividends for preferred stockholders are often fixed and are paid out regularly.

What also sets preferred stock apart is its unique combination of features. Imagine this as a fusion between stocks and bonds. Like bonds, preferred stock typically pays a fixed dividend. But the catch is, the dividend is not guaranteed.

While preferred stock might not have the same voting rights as common stock, it does come with one distinct advantage. Preferred stockholders have a higher claim on dividends and assets. What’s this mean? If a company is in a situation where it has to distribute assets because it’s winding up, preferred stockholders will receive their share before common stock holders.

But before you jump onto the preferred stock bandwagon, remember that companies have the right to skip dividend payments if they’re facing financial troubles. And, unlike bonds, missed payments may not necessarily be retrieved in the future.

This covers the broad strokes of what preferred stock is. It’s one of two major stock types that you’d come across if you’re exploring the world of investing. As with anything else, there are pros and cons to both types of stock. The decision on whether to invest in common or preferred stock would ultimately depend on your personal investment objectives, risk tolerance, and the specific terms of the stock issue.

So yes, while this gives you the basic understanding of preferred stocks, remember that every investment comes with their set of rules, risks, and potential rewards. Keep those factors in mind when you’re deciding on your investment strategy.

Key Differences between Common Stock and Preferred Stock

When you’re venturing into the world of stock investments, understanding the subtle distinctions between common stock and preferred stock is crucial. These differences directly impact your potential returns, the risks you’ll take, and the rights you’ll hold in a company.

Dividend Payments: Guaranteed or Not?

A key difference lies in dividend payments. Common stockholders are the last in line when it comes to receiving dividends. If there’s any money left after paying all other obligations, they’ll receive a share. The payment is also not guaranteed and depends on the company’s profitability.

On the flipside, preferred stockholders receive dividends before common stockholders and creditors. That said, as a preferred stockholder, it’s important to note that companies can skip these payments in financially challenging times.

Voting Rights: More of a Say?

When buying common shares, one key advantage is voting rights. Common stockholders have the power to influence a company by voting on important issues such as mergers, acquisitions, or board appointments.

Conversely, preferred stockholders have limited voting rights. They typically only vote when the company proposes changes that would affect their interests. That means, as a preferred shareholder, you’ll have less of a say in the firm’s direction.

Claim on Dividends and Assets: Who gets what?

In the unfortunate event a company winds up, preferred shareholders have a higher claim than common stockholders on the firm’s dividends and assets. It’s not a cheerful thought, but as an investor, you should be aware of how you stand should the unthinkable happen.

Taking this plunge into the stock market, whether via common or preferred shares, isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. It hinges on your personal investment objectives, risk tolerance, and the specific terms of each stock issue.

Ownership Rights and Voting Power

Let’s delve deeper into ownership rights and voting power. It’s these aspects that often influence an investor’s choice between common and preferred stock.

Common Stock Ownership: A Decisive Role

As owners of common stock, investors gain a more decisive role in the company. You see, common stockholders have the right to vote at company meetings. One share of common stock equals one vote. So the more shares you own, the more influence you’ll have. You’re effectively having a say in major company decisions including electing the board of directors or approving significant corporate transactions.

However, owning common stock isn’t always rosy. If the company goes under, the common stockholders are last in line to get any leftover assets. This potential higher risk often corresponds with a higher reward potential.

Preferred Stock Ownership: Priority Pays

On the other hand, preferred stockholders often enjoy financial preference, but at the cost of missing out on voting rights. In other words, they typically don’t vote. However, this isn’t an absolute rule and the terms of preferred shares can vary from one company to another.

When it comes to financial payoffs, preferred stockholders sit at the top of the pecking order. If a company declares bankruptcy and liquidates its assets, preferred stockholders receive their share after creditors and bondholders, but before common stockholders. There’s an element of security here that you won’t find with common stock.

I’ve tried to offer a simplified comparison here. Keep in mind that these aren’t hard and fast rules. Companies can twist and turn these baselines to suit their specific needs, so it’s always advisable to read the fine print before investing. Whether common stock or preferred stock will be a better fit for you will depend on your personal investment goals and appetite for risk.

Dividends and Returns

When it comes to the topic of dividends and returns, understanding the distinction between common stocks and preferred stocks is crucial. Remember, while preferred stockholders are prioritized in receiving dividends, it’s the company’s choiceto dispatch these dividends or not. If a company hits a rough patch financially, they may choose to keep the dividends on hold.

Conversely, let’s look at common stocks. Although common stock holders are in line to receive dividends after the preferred stockholders, they’ve got their silver lining: voting rights. They can influence company decisions and the dividends they do receive, well, those could potentially skyrocket if the company starts blazing a trail of success.

There’s a distinct difference that needs to be weighed upon, though. Preferred dividends tend to be fixed or pegged to a benchmark. Once I purchase a preferred stock, I’ve got an idea of what to expect in terms of dividends. But common stock dividends? Those are a wild card – they can fluctuate based on the performance of the company.

Take tech giant Google, for instance. If you’ve got common stocks in Google, you’re hoping for the company to do well as the value of your shares will go up. If it starts tanking, the value of your common shares falls. There’s risk involved, but high risk could mean high rewards.

On the flip side, with preferred stocks, your dividends are pretty much set. Even if the company is doing exceptionally well, you won’t see an astronomical climb in dividends. Similarly, if the company isn’t doing great, unless they’re deep into financial troubles, your dividends will stay the same.

Weighing this in, the decision for a balanced investment is squarely upon you. It’s about assessing these facts, your personal risk appetite, and your ultimate investment goals.

Risks and Volatility

Learning about risks and volatility associated with stocks gives an insight into the investment landscape. Let’s take a deeper dive into the risk profiles of both common and preferred stock.

Risks Involved with Preferred Stock

Investing in preferred stock may seem quite safe at first glance. They’ve got a higher claim on dividends and assets, after all. Yet, they hold their risks. One of these risks is interest rate sensitivity. Preferred stocks’ dividends are fixed, causing their value to move inversely with interest rates. When rates rise, the value of preferred stocks usually declines.

Even though preferred stockholders are first to receive dividends, dividends aren’t guaranteed. If the company faces financial troubles, it may downsize or even cancel the dividends. Hence, skipping dividends can pose a legitimate risk to investors.

Risks Associated with Common Stock

Common stocks inherently carry more risk compared to preferred stocks. If a company goes belly-up, common stockholders are last in the queue to claim any remaining assets. This puts common stockholders on the receiving end of the short stick during bankruptcies.

In addition, since their dividends are not fixed, they are at the mercy of the company’s profits. If the company’s earnings take a hit, the dividends may dwindle or disappear altogether. This volatile nature can make common stocks a riskier investment.

Interacting with stocks isn’t a risk-free affair. Both common and preferred stocks have their unique sets of risks which need to be understood before making an investment decision. No investment is foolproof, and that’s something that’s important to remember. However, understanding these risks is what separates a savvy investor from an uninformed one. And, as an investor, that’s a goal I strive towards.


So there you have it. Preferred stock offers a higher claim on dividends and assets but carries its own risks like interest rate sensitivity and potential for skipped dividends. On the other hand, common stock comes with voting rights but also brings along its own set of risks including last in line claim on assets and dividend volatility. It’s crucial to understand these differences and risks to make informed investment decisions. Whether you opt for preferred stock or common stock, your choice should align with your investment goals, risk tolerance, and overall investment strategy. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all in investing. It’s all about finding what works best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between preferred stock and common stock?

Preferred stocks holders receive dividends before common stockholders and have a higher claim in case of company liquidation. However, preferred stockholders have limited voting rights and dividends are not guaranteed, whereas, common stockholders have voting rights and volatile dividends.

Who are preferred stock beneficial for?

Preferred stock can benefit investors who prefer a relatively safer investment with a priority for dividends over common stockholders.

Can companies skip the dividend payments of the preferred stock?

Yes, companies can skip dividend payments for the preferred stock if they are under financial distress.

What are the risks associated with preferred stock?

The risks include sensitivity to interest rate fluctuations and potentially skipped dividends, while the risk with common stock is being last to claim assets during liquidation and volatility of dividends.

Why is it important to understand these risks?

Understanding these risks helps investors make informed decisions about how to balance their portfolio for long-term financial security.

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