Dividend investors often get stuck with popular names in their portfolio, perhaps because these stocks are so often talked about that there's plenty of easy information available on them. 

Of course, there's nothing wrong with investing in proven dividend stocks, except that with a little more effort, you could find some hidden gems in the dividend world that are as good as, and sometimes even better than, some of those well-known companies in terms of dividend stability and growth potential.

Two such amazing but little-known dividend-paying companies that our Motley Fool contributors have identified are American States Water (AWR -0.63%) and Caretrust REIT Inc. (CTRE 0.45%). Read along to know why you should have these stocks on your radar.

Collect higher dividends every year, come what may

Neha Chamaria (American States Water): We can't live without water, but how many times have any of us considered investing in a water stock to supplement our incomes? It's remarkable how a water utility like American States Water is ignored when it comes to dividends. A low yield of 1.8% could be partly to blame, but wait until you find out about the company's dividend record.

American States Water is the king of Dividend Kings, with the longest streak of dividend increases among publicly listed companies in the U.S.: It has raised its dividends annually for the past 64 years. So even in the worst economic crises, you can rely on this stock to reward you with a growing dividend.

A boy staring in surprise at a computer screen.

The potential in some unknown dividend stocks would shock you. Image source: Getty Images.

Now you might think that's great, but has the dividend growth been meaningful? The answer is a resounding yes. Just weeks ago, American States Water raised its dividend by 7.4%. Between 2011 and 2017, its dividends grew at a compound annual rate of 10.4%. Credit goes to a solid footprint in a resilient, highly regulated industry backed by robust financials and efficient management.

The company also has a huge competitive advantage in one of its subsidiaries that serves military bases in the U.S. under 50-year contracts. That's one of the most consistent revenue generators for American States Water. With several military bases set to be privatized, the company foresees massive growth potential in the business.

In the long run, American States Water is targeting a five-year compound growth of "more than 6%" in dividends. That should make the stock appealing to any dividend growth investor.

A small dividend growth stock worth owning for decades

Jason Hall (Caretrust REIT Inc.): One of the biggest secular trends happening in the U.S. is the retirement of the baby boomer generation. Around 3 million boomers turn 65 each year and will continue to do so until the last one reaches that age in 2029. The end result will be over 80 million 65-plus Americans, and the 80-plus population will pass 40 million. Caretrust REIT is an excellent way for dividend investors to profit from this trend. 

The company, which is a real estate investment trust, specializing in senior housing and healthcare-related properties, is still in the early stages of its growth, owning fewer than 200 total properties. But that number has more than doubled since the company went public in 2015, increasing its cash flows and affording it big dividend growth:

CTRE Dividend Chart

CTRE Dividend data by YCharts

And I expect this trend to continue over the long term, even with a recent slowing of growth. And for one critical reason: savvy capital allocation.

In the second-quarter earnings release, CEO Greg Stapley was quoted as saying (emphasis mine), "In our view, the market for good assets has been overheated since the fourth quarter of 2017, and we will never hesitate to head for the sidelines if the right deals aren't there." It may not be exciting to hear the company hasn't made as many acquisitions of late, but this disciplined approach should be music to dividend investors' ears, because it's the ultimate demonstration of being a steward of shareholder value. 

With a 4.6% yield at recent prices and a management team that knows how to grow it, Caretrust REIT should be on every dividend investor's list.