Investors appreciate stocks that pay dividends, enjoying both the current income and the long-term prospects for share price appreciation that they offer. Yet even among companies with above-average dividend yields, some could afford to do even better. In particular, CVS Health (NYSE:CVS), Aflac (NYSE:AFL), and Whirlpool (NYSE:WHR) could all double their dividends without eating too much into their capacity for generating earnings. As you'll see below, each of these three companies has future growth prospects that could help boost dividends further in the years to come.

CVS stays healthy

The drugstore business is a solid one, and CVS has done a good job of capitalizing on the potential of the industry while also maintaining a wider scope in healthcare. From a dividend perspective, CVS has done well, with 14 straight years of annual dividend increases culminating in the recent 18% boost in January. That increase took the current yield to 2.5%. Yet even at its current payout of $2 per share each year, CVS has a payout ratio of just 35%. Double the dividend and a payout ratio of 70% wouldn't be unhealthily high for the drugstore giant.

Dividend notebook with cash and calculator.

Image source: Getty Images.

Moreover, CVS has plenty of future growth prospects. The company's pharmacy benefit management business did extremely well to finish 2016, and that helped contribute to 12% gains in sales and adjusted earnings per share. With guidance for $5.77 to $5.93 in adjusted earnings for 2017, CVS could be able to sustain healthy dividend increases like the one it made a few months ago well into the future.

Dividend investors are quacking about Aflac

Aflac is best known for its duck spokesperson on its commercials, but the insurer has been a profit-making machine. Even though the insurance company has extensive U.S. operations, Aflac gets most of its business in Japan, and that side of the company has turned around recently. Moreover, for 34 straight years, Aflac has delivered dividend increases, including a 5% boost last November that took the current yield to around 2.4%. Yet with earnings of almost $6.50 per share on a trailing basis, Aflac pays out barely a quarter of its income in the form of dividends. Even doubling the payout wouldn't necessarily cause a hardship for Aflac.

Looking ahead, Aflac is working hard to maximize its opportunities. Healthcare reform in the U.S. gives Aflac a chance to structure supplemental insurance offerings to meet changing needs, and an aging population in Japan offers other ways for the insurer to serve its customers on the other side of the Pacific. With modest growth expectations, Aflac is keeping shareholders happy.

Whirlpool cleans up

Whirlpool is the largest appliance manufacturer in the world, and that leaves it exposed to a wide variety of different financial risks. Lately, the Brexit decision by the U.K. to leave the European Union hurt Whirlpool's European sales, and that led to a brief plunge in the appliance maker's stock price. Yet despite these short-term impacts, Whirlpool still has plenty of confidence in its long-term growth story, and investors can sit back and collect dividends along the way.

Currently, Whirlpool's dividend yield is 2.4%, with $4 per share in annual payments. The appliance maker last boosted its payout almost a year ago, leaving shareholders due for another boost in the near future. Yet even if the company were to take the unusual step of doubling its dividend, it would still have a payout ratio of less than 70%, and anticipated gains in future earnings would make Whirlpool shares look even more attractive.

Look for dividend growth

It's unlikely that any of these three companies will actually give investors a quick double in their dividends. However, the prospects for above-average dividend growth over time for these stocks are very real, and investors should think about whether the combination of fundamental growth prospects for their businesses as well as higher payouts make these stocks good picks for their portfolios.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.