That's because even if a fiscal cliff deal is reached, tax rates on dividends will probably still increase. If you add in the investment surtax included in U.S. President Barack Obama's healthcare bill, the top tax rate on dividends could almost triple next year, from 15% to 43.4%.
That is why companies are looking to help out investors in the way of special dividends in 2012.
"Tax rates on dividends are never going to be better," said Steve Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels International Inc. (NYSE: CHH), on its last earnings call. "I don't know how much worse they are going to get, but they are going to get worse."
Special Dividends in 2012Special dividends offer investors the chance to cash in on a large dividend payout before it's taxed at a higher rate, plus investors will enjoy higher share prices as special dividend-paying stocks get a bump from the news.
More than 420 special dividends have been announced just in November and December, which will soon exceed the 433 paid in all of 2011, according to S&P Capital IQ.
And it's not just special dividends that are helping investors - regular dividends are being altered as well.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) announced its fourth-quarter dividend payout, originally scheduled for Jan. 2, will be paid on Dec. 27, and Costco Wholesale Corp. (Nasdaq: COST) and Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) also moved up their first 2013 dividend payments.
Costco not only paid out its first dividend of 2013 in December, it also issued a $7 per share special dividend, totaling $3 billion, to be paid on Dec. 18.
Wynn Resorts Ltd. (Nasdaq: WYNN) was another company in the past two months to announce a special dividend. Along with Wynn's $750 million dividend, some of the biggest payouts have been Brown-Forman Corp's (NYSE: BF.B) $853 million payout, a $1.1 billion payout by HCA Holdings Inc. (NYSE: HCA) and a $1.6 billion dividend by LyondellBasell Industries NV (NYSE: LYB).
Dozens of other companies have also rewarded shareholders.
"It's like a nice end-of-the-year gift," Jay Wong, a Los Angeles-based portfolio manager for Payden & Rydel, a money manager that manages $75 billion told The Wall Street Journal. "We anticipate that some others will probably issue special dividends before the end of the year, when they get a better sense of what's going to change in the tax structure and they assess their financial health."
So where can investors find the next payout?