A dividend that comes from what an investor has paid into a publicly-traded company, rather than from its earnings. That is, a capital dividend occurs when a company gives back what the investor has invested. It may occur when a company must pay a required dividend but earnings make it unable to do so from its profits. Capital dividends may be a sign that a company is not financially healthy. In any case, they reduce the amount of capital that the company has to invest in its operations. They are also called return of capital.
A dividend considered to be drawn from paid-in capital rather than from current earnings or retained earnings. Capital dividends are generally not taxable to a stockholder when paid; rather, they are used to adjust the basis of the security downward such that a larger capital gain or a smaller capital loss will result at the time the security is sold. A capital dividend is somewhat akin to tearing boards off a house to use as firewood. If the process goes on too long, the house itself will be gone. Also called return of capital.