One of the benefits to owning big bank stocks is that they distribute a meaningful share of their earnings each year via quarterly dividends. This is because banks tend to make more money than they can safely lend out.

Yet, not all big bank stocks are equally generous, with some paying out more than others. For an investor looking for bank stocks with high yields, the five in the table below are a great place to start.

These are the five highest-yielding bank stocks on the KBW Bank Index:

Bank

Dividend Yield

New York Community Bancorp (NYSE:NYCB)

5.31%

People's United Financial (NASDAQ:PBCT)

3.95%

Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC)

2.85%

BB&T (NYSE:BBT)

2.74%

Huntington Bancshares (NASDAQ:HBAN)

2.40%

Data source: YCharts.com.

New York Community Bancorp

This has long been a favorite among income investors thanks to its atypically high payout ratio. In the past, New York Community Bancorp has distributed 90% or more of its earnings each year, which explains its peer-group leading yield. Over the past year, however, the bank's payout ratio has dropped to 71%, following New York Community Bancorp's decision to cut its quarterly payout in an effort to complete a since-abandoned merger.

A jar with money labeled "dividends."

Image source: Getty Images.

People's United Financial

People's United Financial ranks second, with a nearly 4% dividend yield over the trailing 12 months. This is a $40 billion asset bank headquartered in Bridgeport, Connecticut. It operates 387 branches throughout Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire.

One thing to take note of is that People's United has consistently been one of the most shorted bank stocks in its peer group, which implies that a subset of investors believe its shares will fall. While this would be bad for current shareholders of the bank, a lower share price would translate into a higher dividend yield, holding all else equal.

Wells Fargo

The 165-year-old bank hardly needs an introduction. It's the third-biggest bank in the country based on the size of its balance sheet, which weighs in at $1.9 trillion worth of assets.

Wells Fargo has run into problems of late following a scandal, revealed last September, in which thousands of its employees opened millions of fake accounts for unwitting customers over a decade and a half, if not longer.

This aside, it's hard to argue with the 2.9% yield on Wells Fargo's stock. Making this look even more appealing is the bank's 41% payout ratio, which is lower than other high-yielding bank stocks and thus implies that Wells Fargo's dividend has more upside potential than the other banks on this list.

BB&T

BB&T is a tried-and-true commercial bank headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It operates 2,196 offices throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

With $220 billion in assets, BB&T is well positioned to grow in the years ahead through mergers and acquisitions. This gives it a leg up on the nation's three biggest banks -- JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo -- which are legally prohibited from acquiring other banks given that they each already hold more than 10% of the country's deposits.

Huntington Bancshares

Last but not least is Huntington Bancshares, a $100 billion bank based in Columbus, Ohio. As of the end of last year, it operated 24 private client group offices and 1,091 branches throughout Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

After struggling through the financial crisis, Huntington's stock has rebounded, generating a 133% total return over the past five years. And with a 45% payout ratio, it has plenty of room to continue growing its quarterly payout.

John Maxfield owns shares of Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.