Faced with a widely expected increase in the U.S. capital gains tax rate, a piece of the much-feared fiscal cliff scenario of massive tax hikes plus federal spending cuts, companies are moving up to this year dividend payments scheduled for early next year so investors can report these earnings at a rate of 15 percent.

Otherwise, gains earned from stocks and bonds next year could be treated like regular earned income and be linked to an individual’s tax bracket.

Thus, married joint filers with a total income of more than $398,350 would pay a capital gains rate of 39.6 percent on profits made from selling securities -- more than double the current rate for such filers.

Married joint filers with combined income of less than $87,850 would pay a 28 percent tax rate on the same income from securities, according to the tax rates that would go back into effect if the Bush-era tax cuts are allowed to expire for everyone.

The most likely scenario is for the capital gains rate to continue to be the same for all income levels. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP expects the capital gains rate to be 20 percent next year, as it was under President Bill Clinton when he got the rate lowered from 28 percent in 1997. But nothing has yet been set in stone.

“It’s a foregone conclusion the rates are going up -- it’s just a matter of how high they go,” Todd Lowenstein, a Los Angeles-based money manager with HighMark Capital Management Inc., told Businessweek.

So in order to help shareholders avoid this uncertainty – one of many faced by Americans as Congress continues to leave the country wondering what their tax bill will be next year – Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) has been the latest major player to announce it will move its scheduled early January dividend payment to late December, putting it into this year’s tax rate.

"There are complex fiscal and federal tax rate issues that may not be resolved in the next few weeks, despite the ongoing good faith negotiations between the administration and Congress to resolve details related to the fiscal cliff," the company said in a statement on Monday.

Wal-Mart has already issued three dividends since March, paying 40 cents per share each time. Its current fiscal year dividend is $1.59 per share. Including December’s payment, Wal-Mart will have given shareholders $1.34 billion in dividends under the current 15-percent rate, according to Reuters.

Companies are paying out special dividends at four times the rate of last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Here’s a list of some other companies that have come out recently to announce pre-year-end special dividends:

HCA Holdings Inc. (NYSE: HCA), Nashville, Tenn.-based health care services holding company: $2.50.
LyondellBasell Industries NV (NYSE: LYB), chemical company based in Rotterdam: $2.75.
Waddell & Reed Financial, Inc. (NYSE: WDR), Overland Park, Kan.-based investment manager: $1.
Miami-based cruise line operator Carnival Corporation (NYSE: CCL): 50 cents.
Franklin Resources, Inc. (NYSE: BEN) investment management holding company of San Mateo, Calif.: $3.
Houston’s Westlake Chemical Corporation (NYSE: WLK): $3.75.
Southport, Conn.-based gun maker Sturm, Ruger & Company (NYSE: RGR): $4.50.
NewMarket Corporation (NYSE: NEU), chemicals holding company of Richmond, Va.: $25.75.
Gyrodyne Company of America, Inc. (NASDAQ: GYRO) a real estate investment trust based in St. James, N.Y.: $38.
Wynn Resorts, Limited (NASDAQ: WYNN), Las Vegas-based casino resort operator: $7.50
IDT Corporation (NYSE: IDT), Newark-based telecommunications holding company: 60 cents.
Masimo Corporation (NASDAQ: MASI), a medical technology company based in Irvine, Calif.: $1.