The record date is the date the company starts printing up dividend checks.
If a company declares a dividend of $1 to be sent to shareholders of record as of December 15th, the secretary will start preparing dividend checks on the 15th. If John sells his stock on the 16th, John will receive the dividend because he owned the stock on record day. Even though the new owner owned the stock the day the dividends were sent, John still gets the dividend because he owned the stock on the day of record.
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