What are preferred stocks?

Preferred stocks (or preferred securities) are a type of investment that pays interest or dividends to investors before dividends are paid to common stockholders. Like bonds, preferred stocks usually pay a fixed coupon rate based on a set “par” value. These investments tend to have very long maturities—usually 30 years or longer—or no maturity at all, meaning they are perpetual. However, most preferred stocks are callable, which means the issuer can redeem them at a set price (usually par) before the stated maturity date. Like bonds, preferred stocks generally carry a credit rating from a recognized rating agency, and that rating tends to be a little lower than the issuing firm’s individual bond rating.

Why would Schwab recommend preferred stocks?

Preferred stocks are designed to provide a steady income through quarterly interest or dividend payments, and their yields tend to be higher than those of other traditional fixed income investments. Also, most preferred stocks are traded on a stock exchange, so there is greater price transparency.

What does Schwab charge to trade preferred stocks?

New-issue stock

Schwab receives a selling concession for distributing a security to Schwab customers.

Secondary market

Online price
$8.95 per trade

Broker-assisted trade
Online price + $25 per trade

Take a closer look at the benefits.

  • Regular income

    Preferred stocks usually pay quarterly dividend or interest payments.

  • Liquidity

    Most preferred stocks are quoted and traded on a stock exchange, so their price is visible at all times and they can be tracked and traded throughout the day. However, depending on the size of the preferred stock issue, there can still be a large bid-ask spread when they are traded.

  • Senior to common stocks

    Preferred stocks are senior to common stock in payment of interest or dividends, so they are paid out before payments are made to common stockholders.

  • Trading flexibility

    Stop orders can be used on exchange-traded preferred stocks to manage risk.

Review the risks.

In addition to the risks commonly associated with fixed income securities, such as call, liquidity, reinvestment, inflation (or purchasing power), market, and event risks, the following risks should be considered when making decisions about preferred stocks:

  • Credit rating

    Because preferred stocks are lower in the capital structure than bonds, the credit rating for preferred stocks is generally lower than that for the bonds the company issues. Therefore, preferred stocks have higher risk.

  • Interest rate fluctuation

    Due to their long maturity dates (or lack of a maturity date in some cases), the prices of preferred stocks are generally very sensitive to changes in interest rates. If interest rates rise, preferred stock prices tend to fall.

  • No dividend guarantees

    For many preferred stocks, a missed coupon payment doesn’t necessarily constitute a default. Unpaid coupon payments accrue to holders of cumulative preferred stocks, but they are lost with non-cumulative preferred stock. Before buying a preferred stock, always pay attention to the characteristics of the individual issue.

Details about preferred stock risk
  • Interest rate

    The risk that the value of a fixed income security will fall as a result of a change in interest rates. This risk can be reduced by diversifying the maturities of fixed income investments or investing in floating rate securities.

  • Credit

    The risk that a security will default or that its credit rating will be downgraded, resulting in a decrease in value for the security. The measurement of credit risk usually takes into consideration the risk of default, credit downgrade, or change in credit spread.

  • Call

    The risk to bondholders that a call option will be exercised by the issuer at an unfavorable time for the holder, such as when interest rates are low. If you are a bondholder whose security is called, you can lose potential interest income.

  • Liquidity

    The relative ability of a security to be sold without substantial transaction costs or reduction of value. The harder it is to sell a security or the greater the loss in value resulting from a sale, the greater the liquidity risk.

  • Reinvestment

    The risk that cash flows from an investment will be reinvested when interest rates are lower, resulting in a possible reduction in cash flow. To mitigate reinvestment risk, an investor can purchase non-callable bonds, which are not subject to early redemption and/or ladder bond maturities at different intervals over time.

  • Inflation (purchasing power)

    The risk that inflation will erode the real return on investment. This occurs when prices rise at a higher rate than investment returns and, as a result, money buys less in the future. The risk is greatest if you’re investing over long periods of time.

  • Market and event

    The risk that a change in the overall market environment or a specific occurrence such as a political incident will have a negative impact on the price/value of your investment.

Find preferred stock.

Preferred Shares Screener

Search hundreds of preferred stocks and filter by criteria such as current yield ranges, ratings, industry, company name, and preferred stock characteristics.

Take advantage of resources to help you make decisions.

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Clients of independent investment advisors: You may also contact your advisor or call Schwab Alliance at 800-515-2157.