Most companies on the stock market pay a dividend, but only the very best are worth buying and holding forever. A good dividend stock should offer a compelling yield, plus the opportunity for dividend growth over time. 

Here, three Fools lay out the case for Caretrust REIT (NASDAQ:CTRE), Raytheon (NYSE:RTN), and MasterCard (NYSE:MA) as dividend stocks worthy of a permanent position in your portfolio.

A glass jar is stuffed full of currency.

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Decades of potential growth make this a "forever" dividend stock

Jason Hall (Caretrust REIT): One of the first stocks I own that comes to mind when I hear "hold forever" is Caretrust REIT, a small but growing owner of long-term care, skilled nursing, and senior housing facilities. At this writing, Caretrust owns fewer than 180 facilities, making it a very small player in a very big market. There are thousands of these kinds of facilities across the U.S., but over the next several decades many more will need to be opened to support the housing needs of a growing senior population. 

According to a Caretrust presentation, the number of skilled nursing facilities in the U.S. has declined by nearly 1,100 properties since 2001, even as the 65-plus population has increased from 35 million to almost 50 million. Considering the 65-plus population is expected to reach 80 million in less than 20 years, a lot of new facilities will be needed.

Furthermore, the U.S. department of Health and Human Services estimates that one-third of Americans who live beyond 65 will will use a skilled nursing facility at some point. That's tens of millions more older Americans who will need the kinds of facilities Caretrust owns. 

With a solid track record of expansion and dividend growth since going public, Caretrust management has proved capable. Given decades of potential growth and a business model that's built to pay investors steadily bigger dividends over time, this is one stock that I fully intend to hold as long as I'm alive. 

X marks the spot

Daniel Miller (Raytheon): Picking a dividend stock that you can hold forever is no simple task. There are so many things that can cripple a company's business model as the world and technology rapidly evolves. But one safe bet is that there's always going to be conflict around the world, and a company such as Raytheon, with a vision of making the world a safer place through defense products, civil government, and cybersecurity solutions, should reward investors over the long term. Business has been good for the defense company:

RTN Chart

RTN data by YCharts

Over the past decade, Raytheon has scooped up a significant amount of shares through buybacks, all while dishing more cash back to investors through dividends -- forming the "X" in that long-term graph -- and the markets have responded by pushing its stock price consistently higher. While its 1.9% dividend yield won't pop off the screen, the company remains committed to payouts and has recorded 13 consecutive years of increases, with a nearly 9% raise in 2017. 

Looking ahead, as the U.S. Department of Defense spending is poised to grow and global instability has pushed its international sales higher, the company remains well positioned to both protect its business and earn new contracts. One long-term question facing potential investors is if Raytheon can capitalize on its emerging cybersecurity business; if it can, there's no doubt it should be a company to hold forever. 

This dividend could grow 20% a year for a very long time

Jordan Wathen (MasterCard): The payments-network business model is as lucrative as it gets. MasterCard's network links together millions of merchants to banks and consumers, acting as a toll road upon which payments travel from one party to another.

For the value it provides, its services are undeniably cheap. While many look at the 2% or 3% fee levied on payments as punishing for some businesses -- and for many low-margin businesses, it can be -- only a small fraction of total processing fees flow to MasterCard. In fact, last year, MasterCard collected an average of 0.24% of each payment as revenue, even though it is perhaps the most important piece of the payments puzzle. The vast majority flows to the issuing bank, which helps subsidize credit card rewards and other expenses. 

More than a decade after going public, MasterCard hasn't had a substantial slowdown in its growth. In the United States, growing e-commerce is leading to greater purchase volume on cards. Internationally, the shift from cash to card is in the early innings.

Though it doesn't offer a beefy yield today, the dividend is almost certain to grow as MasterCard's payout ratio swells from the 21% of earnings it paid out in 2016. A combination of high-single-digit revenue growth, margin expansion, and an increased payout ratio could drive 20% annual dividend growth for a long time to come.

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.