If the fiscal cliff goes into effect and the president's healthcare bill is upheld, the dividend tax rate could triple next year - which is why companies are looking to help out investors in the way of special dividends in 2012.
Since the end of September to mid-November, 59 companies in the Russell 3000 stock index announced a one-time special dividend, up from about 15 in the same period last year.
And it's not just special dividends that are helping investors - regular dividends are being altered as well.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) just announced its fourth-quarter dividend payout, originally scheduled for Jan. 2, will now be paid on Dec. 27.
"It's a foregone conclusion the rates are going up -- it's just a matter of how high they go," Todd Lowenstein, a Los Angeles-based money manager with HighMark Capital Management Inc. told Bloomberg News. "When you know that 15% tax rate is going away and you have excess cash buildup, it makes sense to return some of it back to shareholders now."
As things currently stand, the top tax rate on dividends will go from 15% to 43.4% at the end of the year, causing companies to seriously consider offering a special dividend.
Special dividends offer investors a "twofer": Besides collecting a large dividend payout before it's taxed at a higher rate, investors will enjoy higher share prices as special dividend-paying stocks get a boost from the news.
So where can investors find these special dividends?