What is a Fractional Share?

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Definition:

A fractional share is a part of a share of stock that is less than a full share, which can come from stock splits, dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs), or other corporate actions.

🤔 Understanding a fractional share

A fractional share is a part of one share of stock. Fractional shares are often the result of financial decisions or actions by a company. For example, stock splits may result in fractional shares if an investor has an odd number of stocks. If two companies merge, they often combine stocks using an agreed upon ratio that may generate fractional shares. If you reinvest your dividends as part of a dividend reinvestment plan, you could end up with fractions of a share. You normally can’t buy or sell a fractional share on the stock market, but a brokerage firm can bundle several together to make a full share, sell you a percentage to complete your share, or split up full shares to sell fractional shares to new investors. Remember to always be mindful of trading fees, and all investments carry risk.

Example

Let’s say the fictional company Great Big Giant Co. has a stock that trades for $2,000 a share. A brokerage firm whose clients might like to own a piece of Great Big Giant Co. — but can’t afford even one share at that high price — could offer fractional shares: One-half share for $1,000, or one-quarter share for $500, etc.

Takeaway

A fractional share is like a component of a spaceship…

If a share of stock is like a spaceship, a fractional share is like breaking that spacecraft down into its parts like a door, hinges, seats, jets, and the engine to distribute to folks who want just one part of the machine, and not the whole. Just as an astronautics team might break down a spacecraft to isolate its parts, you might ask your brokerage firm to offer you fractional shares in a company that strikes your interest because you don’t want to buy a full share (which, depending on the stock, could cost a lot). This fractional share can basically let you get a taste of the action, without getting the entire machine.

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How do fractional shares work?

Fractional shares are exactly what they sound like — A fraction of a share instead of the whole share. Because a fractional share is less than a whole share, it allows those interested in fractional share investing to buy in smaller dollar amounts. If you’re a beginner investor interested in a large company with high share value and cannot afford a whole share, you might approach a brokerage firm with the dollar amount you want to spend, and buy a fractional share that corresponds to that dollar amount. Not all brokerage firms offer this option.

What are the benefits of fractional shares?

Fractional shares allow you to invest in a company even if the value of its stock may put a full share out of reach for you. It also can potentially give you more flexibility, allowing you to diversify your portfolio, and reduce risk.

Fractional share investing can also help you if you’re partial to dollar-cost averaging. This is when you regularly put a fixed amount of money into an account — be it a 401(k), an HSA, or an investment account — over a period of time. Say you receive a paycheck every other week and elect to transfer $100 of it directly into your brokerage account. Maybe that $100 won’t buy an entire share of stock at a company you’re interested in, but it can buy smaller fractional shares in a diverse array of stocks over time. Not all brokerage firms offer this option.

Keep in mind diversification and automatic investing do not ensure a profit and do not protect against losses in declining markets.

How do you buy and sell fractional shares?

Some brokerage firms allow you to buy fractional shares. Firms may execute fractional orders in different ways. One example may be that the firm will buy or sell whole shares of any given stock, and then track which client owns which fractional portion of each share.

However, buying fractional shares isn’t the only way to end up with them. Fractional shares are often the byproduct of financial maneuvers by companies, such as stock splits. For example, in a 3-for-2 stock split, an investor with an odd number of shares would end up with fractional shares — in that case, for example, 5 shares would become 7½.

Fractional shares can also come about as the result of a dividend reinvestment plan, where dividends are immediately put to work buying more stock — but perhaps a bit of leftover cash won’t be enough for a whole share. A successful company may choose to reward its investors with a share of its profits; this can come in the form of a dividend paid out once or several times a year, in an amount corresponding to the number of shares each investor holds. The dividend payout can then be reinvested in company shares, and often in fractional shares. A dividend reinvestment plan sets this transaction to occur regularly and automatically.

Mergers and acquisitions can also create fractional shares, as companies may combine a new common stock based on a predetermined ratio. This will create a certain number of new shares out of old shares in a method that is similar to a stock split. For example, if Company A buys out Company B, the two could decide together that investors will now receive half a share of Company A stock for every share of Company B stock they held. If you were an investor in Company B and owned 5 shares of its stock, you would now own 2½ shares of Company A stock.

How are dividends affected by fractional shares?

A company may choose to reward its investors with a share of its profits; this can come in the form of a dividend paid out once or potentially several times a year, in an amount corresponding to the number of shares each investor holds. Just as owning shares of a company allows an investor to receive dividends, owning a fractional share allows an investor to receive a dividend, too –– just a corresponding fractional amount.

Can you buy fractional shares of ETFs?

Just as you can buy fractional shares of a single stock, you can also buy fractional shares in some exchange traded funds (ETFs). Much like fractional shares in company stocks, fractional shares in ETFs can allow you to diversify your stock portfolio, thereby potentially reducing risk. Just as you can approach a broker or brokerage firm with an amount of money and use it to buy a fractional share of a stock, you can also use that money to buy a fractional share in some ETFs. When it comes to buying and selling, fractional shares in ETFs operate under the same principles: You’ll go through a brokerage firm at both ends of the deal, and the shares may have certain conditions or fees attached to them.

What happens to fractional shares from reinvested dividends when you sell?

Fractional shares from reinvested dividends can be sold the same way an investor would sell fractional shares acquired by any other means. In most cases, as an investor you’ll work through a middleman (usually a brokerage firm) to sell fractional shares. The firm may take your fractional share and bundle it together with others until it has a whole share to sell, or it may resell your fractional share to someone else who wants it. Some companies may buy your fractional share directly, but only if you sell all of your shares in the company at once.

What brokerages offer fractional shares?

Some brokerage firms allow the buying and selling of fractional shares. Always do your own research and be aware of fees, and that all investments carry risk.

Ready to start investing?
Sign up for Robinhood and get your first stock on us.Certain limitations apply

The free stock offer is available to new users only, subject to the terms and conditions at rbnhd.co/freestock. Free stock chosen randomly from the program’s inventory.

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