Common vs Preferred Stock - What is the Difference?

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Published at : 08 Dec 2020
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Businesses raise money from investors by selling stock in one of two types: common stock or preferred stock. Both common stock and preferred stock can be worthwhile investments, and you can find both types of stock on major exchanges.

In this video, we break down:

0:42 - What is common stock
2:06 - What is preferred stock
3:26 - Convertible preferred stock
3:52 - Common stock vs preferred stock

There are many differences between common and preferred stock, though, and depending on your needs, one might be more suitable for you.

Common stock gives investors partial ownership in a company. Many companies exclusively issue common stock to investors, and there's a lot more common stock available on stock exchanges than preferred stock.
Investors holding common stock typically have the legal right to vote on the representatives on the company's board of directors and to approve major corporate decisions, such as mergers. Common shareholders also have the right to receive any dividends that the company declares on their shares.
The most attractive feature of common stock for investors is that its value can rise dramatically over time. As a company becomes more successful, its common stock price typically goes up.

However, common shareholders have the lowest priority for getting any of their money back when a company fails. Creditors who lend money to the company typically must get paid in full before any shareholder -- common or preferred -- can receive anything from the liquidation of a company's assets.

Even if there's something left over after creditors have gotten paid, preferred shareholders still stand ahead of common shareholders up to a certain maximum amount. Common shareholders only receive something if there’s anything left over after all that has happened.

Most of the time, companies have just one class of common stock.

Preferred stock often looks a lot more like a bond, as it typically has a set dollar amount that the company can pay preferred shareholders to redeem the shares.

Most preferred stock pays dividends, and the amount tends to be higher than what common shareholders receive. Generally preferred stock pays fixed dividends year in and year out, rather than seeing changes in payout amounts from quarter to quarter, which is what you tend to see with common stock.

The label "preferred" comes from two advantages that preferred stock has over common stock. A company must pay out dividends to preferred shareholders before common shareholders receive any dividends.

If a company fails and its assets get distributed to investors, preferred shareholders must receive a fixed amount of money before common shareholders can get any of their investment back.

Those attributes make preferred stock especially attractive for investors whose primary focus is on income. Most preferred stock won't see large price increases even if the company that issued it is successful.

However, predictable dividends that have priority over common stock dividends give preferred shareholders more confidence that the company will pay out the income they need.

There's no limit to the number of different preferred stock classes a company can issue. It's not unusual for a company to define multiple preferred share classes, featuring different dividend rates and dates at which the company can redeem the stock by paying investors their capital back.

Companies can also issue convertible preferred stock. In addition to having the normal attributes of preferred stock, convertible preferred gives the shareholder the right to take their preferred shares and convert them into regular common stock under certain circumstances.

That right gives convertible preferred stock more upside potential than regular preferred stock, making it an attractive option for some investors who like the combination of higher dividend income and possible share price increases over time.

And preferred stock gets priority if things go poorly and can be a better fit for dividend investors.

Most investors want stocks as investments because they're interested in long-term growth for their portfolio. For them, common stock is usually the better choice, because they care more about seeing their shares grow as a company succeeds.

For growth-oriented investors who like the features of preferred stock, choosing a convertible preferred can also be a smart move.

If your primary focus as an investor is on current income, preferred stock can give you more of what you're looking for.

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common stockcommon stock vs preferred stockpreferred stock vs common stock

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