Home » What is the Difference Between Common Stock and Preferred Stock?

What is the Difference Between Common Stock and Preferred Stock?

common stock vs preferred stock

Common stock and preferred stock are two types of securities that represent ownership in a company. While both types of stocks provide shareholders with an ownership stake, they differ in terms of voting rights and dividend payments.

Common stockholders have voting rights, allowing them to participate in important corporate decisions such as electing the board of directors. On the other hand, preferred stockholders do not typically have voting rights, which means they have limited say in these matters.

Preferred stockholders receive fixed dividends before common stockholders. This means that preferred stockholders are entitled to a predetermined dividend payment regardless of the company’s financial performance. Common stockholders, on the other hand, may receive dividends if the company chooses to distribute them but are not guaranteed a specific dividend rate.

In summary, while both common and preferred stocks represent ownership in a company, they differ in terms of voting rights and dividend payments.

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Key Differences: Common Stock vs. Preferred Stock

Common stock and preferred stock are two types of ownership in a company, each with its own unique characteristics. Understanding the differences between these two types of stocks is essential for investors. Let’s explore the main differences between common stock and preferred stock.

Level of Ownership and Voting Rights

The primary difference between common stock and preferred stock lies in the level of ownership and voting rights they offer to shareholders.

  • Common Stock: When you own common stock in a company, you become a partial owner or shareholder. This means that you have a claim on the company’s assets and earnings, as well as the right to vote on certain corporate matters, such as electing board members.
  • Preferred Stock: On the other hand, preferred stockholders also have ownership rights but typically do not have voting rights. Instead, their priority lies in receiving fixed dividends before common shareholders if the company distributes profits.

Potential Returns and Stability

Another significant difference between common and preferred stock is related to potential returns and stability.

  • Common Stock: Common stock offers potential for higher returns through capital appreciation. As the company’s value increases over time, so does the value of your shares. However, it’s important to note that common shareholders bear more risk compared to preferred shareholders.
  • Preferred Stock: Preferred stock provides more stable income through fixed dividends paid at regular intervals. These dividends are predetermined at the time of issuance and provide investors with a consistent stream of income even during times when a company may not be performing well.

Priority in Liquidation

In the event of liquidation or bankruptcy proceedings where a company’s assets are distributed among stakeholders, there is a difference in priority between common and preferred shareholders.

  • Preferred Stockholders: Preferred shareholders have priority over common shareholders. This means that if there are any remaining funds, preferred shareholders will be paid before common shareholders.
  • Common Stockholders: Common shareholders receive their share of remaining assets after preferred shareholders have been paid. However, it’s important to note that in many cases, there may not be sufficient funds left for common stockholders after satisfying the claims of preferred stockholders and debt obligations.

Understanding the differences between common stock and preferred stock is crucial for investors as it helps them make informed decisions about their investment portfolios. While common stock offers potential for higher returns through capital appreciation, preferred stock provides more stability through fixed dividends. Preferred stockholders have priority over common shareholders in the event of liquidation or bankruptcy proceedings.

Advantages of Common Stock

Common stocks offer several advantages for investors. Let’s explore these benefits in more detail:

Potential for Higher Returns

Investing in common stocks provides the potential for higher returns compared to other investment options. As common stockholders, investors have the opportunity to participate in the growth and success of the company. If the company performs well, the value of its common shares may increase over time, resulting in capital appreciation.

Voting Rights

One significant advantage of owning common stock is that it grants shareholders voting rights. This means that as a common stockholder, you have a say in important corporate decisions. You can exercise your voting rights at annual general meetings or through proxy voting to influence decisions such as electing board members or approving major business transactions.

Dividend Payments

While preferred stock is known for its consistent dividend payments, common stocks also have the potential to provide dividends. Companies may choose to distribute a portion of their profits as dividends to their common shareholders. These dividends can be an additional source of income for investors and may increase over time if the company continues to perform well.

Capital Gains

Investing in common stocks allows investors to benefit from capital gains. When you purchase shares at a certain price and sell them later at a higher price, you realize a capital gain. This gain represents the difference between your purchase price and selling price per share.

Flexibility and Liquidity

Common stocks are highly liquid investments, meaning they can be easily bought or sold on public exchanges like the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or NASDAQ. This liquidity provides investors with flexibility, allowing them to enter or exit positions quickly based on market conditions or changing investment strategies.

Ownership Stake

By investing in common stocks, individuals become owners (shareholders) of the company. Owning shares gives you a sense of ownership and allows you to participate in any future success or growth of the organization.

Disadvantages of Common Stock

Common stocks have their advantages, but they also come with some disadvantages that investors should be aware of. Let’s take a closer look at these drawbacks:

Market Volatility and Price Fluctuations

One of the main disadvantages of common stock is its susceptibility to market volatility. The price of common stocks can fluctuate significantly, sometimes experiencing sharp declines or sudden increases. This volatility can make it challenging for investors to predict and plan for potential returns on their investments.

Uncertain Dividends

Unlike preferred stock, dividends on common stocks are not guaranteed. While many companies do pay dividends to their common shareholders, there is no obligation to do so. In fact, during times of financial difficulty or economic downturns, companies may choose to reduce or eliminate dividend payments altogether. This uncertainty in dividend payouts makes investing in common stock riskier in terms of income generation.

Lower Priority in Bankruptcy

In the unfortunate event that a company declares bankruptcy and needs to distribute its assets among stakeholders, common shareholders have lower priority compared to bondholders or preferred shareholders. Bondholders have a higher claim on the company’s assets due to the nature of their investment instrument, while preferred shareholders have a predetermined preference over common shareholders.

This means that if a company goes bankrupt and liquidates its assets, common shareholders may receive little or no compensation for their investment. This lower priority status adds an additional layer of risk for those holding common stock.

While these disadvantages exist, it’s important to note that many investors still find value in holding common stock as part of a diversified portfolio. The potential for long-term capital appreciation and voting rights in corporate decisions can outweigh these drawbacks for some individuals.

It’s crucial for investors considering common stock investments to carefully assess their risk tolerance and financial goals before making any decisions. Consulting with a financial advisor can provide valuable guidance tailored to individual circumstances.

Advantages of Preferred Stock

Preferred stock offers several advantages to investors compared to common stock. Let’s explore these benefits in more detail:

Fixed Dividend Payments

One significant advantage of preferred stock is that it provides investors with a fixed dividend payment. Unlike common stock, where dividends can vary or even be eliminated, preferred shareholders receive a predictable income stream. This feature makes preferred stock appealing to income-seeking investors who rely on regular dividend payments for their financial needs.

Priority in Dividends and Liquidation

Another advantage of holding preferred stock is the priority it grants shareholders over common stockholders. In the event of a company’s profits being distributed as dividends, preferred shareholders are entitled to receive their dividend payments before any funds are allocated to common shareholders. This prioritization ensures that preferred shareholders have a higher likelihood of receiving their expected returns.

Similarly, if a company faces liquidation or bankruptcy, preferred shareholders have a higher claim on the company’s assets compared to common shareholders. This means that in such circumstances, preferred shareholders will be among the first to receive compensation from the sale of assets. This priority status provides an added layer of security for those invested in preferred stocks.

Convertibility Option

Certain types of preferred shares come with an additional benefit – convertibility into common shares. This means that at the discretion of the shareholder, they can convert their preferred shares into common shares at a predetermined conversion ratio. By converting their shares, investors can participate in potential capital appreciation and benefit from any increase in the price per share.

This optionality allows investors to potentially enhance their returns by taking advantage of favorable market conditions or positive developments within the company issuing the stock. It provides flexibility and an opportunity for increased profitability beyond what would be possible by solely holding onto preferred shares.

Disadvantages of Preferred Stock

Limited Voting Rights

Unlike common stock, preferred stock generally does not offer voting rights to investors. This means that holders of preferred shares have limited influence on corporate decisions. While common stockholders have the ability to vote on matters such as electing board members or approving major company changes, preferred shareholders do not have the same level of control. This can be a disadvantage for investors who want a say in how the company is run.

Fixed Dividend Payments

One of the main features of preferred stock is its fixed dividend payments. While this can provide stability and predictability for income-seeking investors, it also limits the upside potential compared to common stocks. Common stockholders have the opportunity to benefit from an increase in dividends if the company performs well and decides to distribute higher profits to shareholders. However, preferred shareholders typically receive a fixed dividend rate that does not change regardless of the company’s financial performance.

Interest Rate Risk

Investors should carefully consider interest rate risk when investing in preferred stocks. Changes in interest rates can impact the value of preferred shares. When interest rates rise, the value of existing fixed-rate securities like preferred stocks may decrease because their fixed dividend payments become less attractive compared to alternative investments with higher yields. On the other hand, when interest rates fall, the value of existing fixed-rate securities may increase as their fixed dividends become relatively more appealing.

To illustrate this point, let’s consider an example: Suppose an investor purchases preferred shares with a fixed annual dividend payment of $2 per share when interest rates are at 4%. If interest rates subsequently rise to 6%, new investments with similar risk profiles would likely offer higher yields than these existing preferred shares with a $2 dividend payment. As a result, demand for those existing shares could decline, causing their market price to fall.

Factors to Consider When Choosing between Common and Preferred Stock

When deciding between common stock and preferred stock, investors need to take several factors into consideration. These factors include their investment goals, risk tolerance, desired income stream, the company’s financial health and growth prospects, dividend policy, as well as market conditions and the interest rate environment.

Investment Goals, Risk Tolerance, and Desired Income Stream

Investors should first assess their investment goals. Are they seeking long-term capital appreciation or regular income? Common stock tends to offer greater potential for capital appreciation due to its participation in the company’s growth. On the other hand, preferred stock is known for its fixed dividend payments that provide a more stable income stream.

Risk tolerance is another crucial factor. Common stock carries higher risks but also offers higher potential returns. It is subject to market volatility and changes in the company’s performance. Preferred stock is generally considered less risky since it has a fixed dividend rate and priority over common shareholders in case of liquidation.

Company’s Financial Health, Growth Prospects, and Dividend Policy

Assessing the financial health of a company is essential before investing in its stocks. Investors should analyze factors such as revenue growth, profitability ratios, debt levels, and cash flow stability. A financially healthy company with strong growth prospects may make common stock an attractive option.

Dividend policy also plays a significant role in choosing between common and preferred stock. Companies may have different policies regarding dividends on each type of stock. While common shareholders participate in dividend increases when the company performs well, preferred shareholders enjoy fixed dividends regardless of how the company fares.

Market Conditions and Interest Rate Environment

Market conditions can influence the relative attractiveness of common and preferred stocks. During periods of economic uncertainty or market downturns, investors may prefer the stability offered by preferred stocks’ fixed dividends.

The interest rate environment is another important consideration since it affects both types of stocks differently. Preferred stock dividends are typically fixed and sensitive to interest rate changes. When interest rates rise, the relative attractiveness of preferred stocks may decline compared to common stocks.

In contrast, common stock prices tend to be more influenced by market sentiment, company performance, and growth prospects rather than interest rates. During periods of low-interest rates, investors may favor common stocks for their potential capital appreciation.

Making an Informed Investment Decision

In conclusion, understanding the differences between common stock and preferred stock is essential for making informed investment decisions. Common stock offers potential growth and voting rights, making it a popular choice for investors seeking long-term appreciation. However, it also carries higher risk due to its position in the company’s capital structure. On the other hand, preferred stock provides a fixed dividend and priority in receiving assets during liquidation, making it more appealing to income-oriented investors. Nevertheless, it may not offer the same potential for capital appreciation as common stock.

To make the right choice between common and preferred stock, consider your investment goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon. Evaluate the financial health of the company issuing the stocks and assess market conditions. Consulting with a financial advisor can provide valuable insights tailored to your specific needs.


What are some key factors to consider when choosing between common and preferred stock?

When deciding between common and preferred stock, several factors should be considered. These include your investment goals (growth or income), risk tolerance (higher risk/higher return or lower risk/steady income), time horizon (short-term or long-term), voting rights (desired or not), dividend payments (fixed or variable), position in the capital structure (higher priority or lower priority in case of bankruptcy), and overall financial health of the issuing company.

Can I convert my preferred stock into common stock?

In some cases, companies may allow conversion of preferred shares into common shares based on predetermined terms. This conversion option can provide investors with flexibility if they wish to participate in potential future growth opportunities associated with common shares. However, conversion terms vary among companies and must be carefully evaluated before making any decisions.

Are dividends paid on both common and preferred stocks?

Dividends are typically paid on both common and preferred stocks; however, there are important distinctions. Preferred shareholders usually receive fixed dividends at predetermined rates, while common shareholders may receive dividends that fluctuate based on the company’s financial performance and board of directors’ decisions.

Can I lose my entire investment in both common and preferred stocks?

Investing in stocks carries inherent risks, and it is possible to lose your entire investment in both common and preferred stocks. However, the level of risk varies. Common stockholders bear higher risk as they are last in line to receive assets during liquidation. Preferred stockholders have a higher claim on assets but may still face potential losses if the issuing company faces financial distress.

How do I assess the financial health of a company before investing?

Assessing the financial health of a company involves analyzing various factors such as its profitability, debt levels, cash flow generation, competitive position, industry trends, and management expertise. Key financial statements like income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements can provide valuable insights into a company’s financial performance. Researching industry reports, news articles, and analyst opinions can help evaluate the overall market conditions and prospects for growth or stability.

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