Since I’ve started my journey towards financial freedom dividend ETFs have always played a key role in my portfolio. Not only do they tend to perform well over the long term, but they also pay out a steady stream of income. Today I wanted to take a look at the dividend reinvestment process of the most common ETFs and brokers and ask:
Are ETF dividends automatically reinvested? In short, whether ETF dividends are automatically reinvested depends entirely on your broker. With most brokers, you will be able to enroll your dividend ETF holdings in a so-called Dividend Reinvestment Plan (DRIP). Once enrolled, your ETF dividends will be automatically reinvested. So, ETF dividends are only automatically reinvested if you choose to do so.
This of course begs the question: should you automatically reinvest ETF dividends?
In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the most common brokers and see if they offer DRIPs and how you can enroll your funds in them. We’ll also address some tax issues with regards to reinvested dividends and finally discuss if it is better to automatically reinvest your dividends than having them paid out.
Overview of brokers
First, we’ll look at some of the most common brokers and see how they handle ETF dividend reinvestments. The most favorable scenario you and me as an investor will be to enroll our funds in a DRIP. Additionally, it is beneficial if your broker allows for the buying of fractional shares.
Does Vanguard automatically reinvest dividends?
Vanguard is one of the brokers with the most ETFs available to automatically reinvest dividends. They offer a no-fee no-commissions dividend reinvestment program on all their (Vanguard’s) ETFs, closed-end mutual funds and Fund Access funds. The only main requirement is that your account is not subject to either backup or nonresident alien income tax withholding.
Besides this, there are some other minor eligibility issues. Vanguard may choose to make foreign equities or ETFs that are highly illiquid ineligible for their DRIP. However, you probably should not be investing in highly illiquid ETFs anyway.
If you stick to their major exchange traded funds such VTI, VIG or VYM you should be fine!
Does TD Ameritrade automatically reinvest dividends?
With TD Ameritrade you basically have all the same option of reinvesting dividends automatically as you have with Vanguard. You can opt into their DRIP by selecting each of your holdings individually or choose to enroll all.
TD Ameritrade offers the same no-fee no-commission dividend reinvestment options as Vanguard does. You will also be able to purchae fractional of almost any funds you choose to invest in.
There is not much information publicly available on any restriction or eligibility requirements TD Ameritrade might have on enrolling funds into their DRIP. Possibly, you will have a hard time with foreign equities and very low-volume ETFs as with Vanguard.
Does Robinhood automatically reinvest dividends?
Robinhood is one of the most popular brokers, especially among Millenials. Their intuitive and user-friendly interface makes investing with little cash and no-commission or fees highly appealing.
One of the downsides of Robinhood is, however, that their platform sometimes is overly simplified. Thorough research or analysis is better done elsewhere. When it comes to DRIPs, Robinhood has recently updated their system to make dividend reinvesting a reality.
With Robinhood’s new DRIP it’s easy to autmatically reinvest your ETF dividends.
As with Vanguard and TD Ameritrade you can choose which holding to enroll in the DRIP and do so commission-free.
According to Robinhood your dividends may not be reinvested if “The equity is ineligible for Dividend Reinvestment.” But it remains unclear which exact requirements Robinhood has for enrolling funds in their DRIP.
What happens if you don’t reinvest dividends?
If you choose not to invest your ETF dividends they will generally be paid out in cash and credited to your account. This will occur four times a year usally each quarter.
Vanguard also has the option to have your dividends automatically paid out and transfered to your bank account. This way you can set up a passive income stream from your dividends ETF holdings.
Reinvested Dividends & Taxes
When it comes to ETF dividends, taxes are always a big issue for every investor. While dividends generally are taxed as regular capital gains you can save some money by declaring them as qualified dividends.
In the following section we’ll discuss some common tax questions related to DRIPs and dividend reinvestment in general.
Are reinvested ETF dividends taxable?
If you reinvest your ETF dividends automatically you don’t even see the money so there’s no tax right?
Even though DRIPs make it so that you never see the cash in your account from a tax perspective you receive capital gains. This means that even ETF dividends that are reinvested through DRIPs are taxable. Holding ETFs for a longer period of time will allow you to declare those reinvested dividends as qualified which can significantly reduce your tax burden.
How can I avoid paying tax on dividends?
If you are looking to avoid paying tax on dividends at all (for now). You may consider opening a tax-shielded account such as a Roth IRA. However, once you withdraw money from these type of accounts you will have to pay ordinary income tax which may end up being for then the long-term capital gains tax rate for qualified dividends.
Besides putting your money away for the long-term and late retirement, the only option is to make sure to hold your funds for longer than 60 days and pay the lower capital gains rate on your reinvested dividends.
How do ETFs avoid capital gains?
Compared to mutual funds ETFs offer other tax benefits. Although ETFs cannot avoid capital gains completely they can lower the tax burden that is passed on to investors.
This is because ETFs follow and index while in a mutual fund the fund manager picks the stocks. Thus, they tend to have a higher fluctuation of companies held in the fund. Each time a stock is sold investors are exposed to possibly paying (be it indirectly) capital gains.
We’ve looked at how ETF dividends can be automatically reinvested through dividend reinvestment programs (DRIPs). We’ve also compared options for automatically having your ETF dividends reinvested with Vanguard, TD Ameritrade and Robinhood.
However, there is one questions I have not addressed yet: should I reinvest ETF dividends?
For me, this comes down to personal preference. If you prefer setting your investments on auto-pilot having your dividends reinvested automatically once they are paid out may be the right option for you. This will also allow you to make the most of compound interest.
I prefer having dividends paid out on a regular basis and use them as part of my cash flow stream. This combined with cash flow from real estate and other sources can create an attractive passive income stream on the side. It all depends on your own personal investment goals.