Dividends are your best friend in retirement, but simply adding high-yield stocks to your retirement portfolio won't help. Stability and security of income are priorities in your golden years, which is why it's important to go for stocks that pay dividends consistently and, preferably, even grow them regularly.

Established companies in their respective industries with strong earnings and cash-flow visibility are some contenders you could consider. Examples include Aqua America (WTRG 0.73%), 3M Company (MMM -0.74%), and Apple (AAPL -3.04%). Here's why these three Motley Fool contributors believe these three dividend stocks are great to own in retirement.

A big, bold bet on the Steel City and natural gas

Maxx Chatsko (Aqua America): Wall Street didn't know what to do with the recent announcement that Aqua America, a water utility based in Philadelphia, had agreed to acquire Peoples, a natural-gas utility based in Pittsburgh. The nearly $4.3 billion deal marks a significant expansion for the nearly $6 billion water utility, which would lean on natural gas for 30% of its regulated rate base after the deal settles. So, Mr. Market sent the dividend stock down 10% -- pushing the dividend yield to 2.6% -- in an unusual stock movement for the predictable, regulated business. 

An aged gentleman resting in a park.

Top-notch dividend stocks can hugely help you enjoy your retirement. Image source: Getty Images.

That's because of the added uncertainty surrounding the financing of the mammoth acquisition, which could really hurt shareholders down the road if Peoples doesn't deliver a high enough return. The risk can't be discounted completely, but long-term investors will find a lot to like in Aqua America's big, bold bet on the city of Pittsburgh, which will become the utility's natural gas headquarters.

The city sits in a prime location to quarterback the growing energy dominance of Appalachia, which would be the world's third-largest natural gas producer if it were a stand-alone country today. And it's expected to double its output by 2022. The region has downright pathetic renewable energy potential, so natural gas will be the dominant heating and electricity source for decades to come -- for both residential customers (what Wall Street is focused on) and industrial customers (an overlooked growth opportunity for Peoples). 

Additionally, Peoples has a significant opportunity to modernize its nearly 14,000 miles of natural-gas utility infrastructure in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky, which bodes well for earning higher rates from customers in the near future. That's why Aqua America expects the natural-gas utility business to grow up to 10% per year, compared to just 7% for the water utility business. Throw in Pittsburgh's aging and somewhat embarrassing water infrastructure (complete with lead leaching, wastewater overflows into the Three Rivers, and a heavily indebted wastewater treatment company that's ruined the budget for the entire state in recent years) and Aqua America could find opportunities outside of natural gas in the Steel City -- and more than make up the $4.3 billion acquisition cost over time. 

You can't afford to ignore this dividend stalwart

Neha Chamaria (3M): Industrials conglomerate 3M has all the qualities you'd want in a dividend stock, from its track record to dividend growth potential.

A Dividend King is a company that has increased its dividend every year for at least 50 years. Making it to the list is no cakewalk, but 2018 marked 3M's 60th straight year of dividend increases. Credit goes to disciplined capital allocation and management efficiency in handling a hugely diversified portfolio that comprises top-notch global brands like Post-it and Scotch and more than 60,000 products sold across the globe.

In 3M's latest five-year plan for 2019-2023, management confirmed its commitment to dividends. In the five-year period, 3M expects to grow its earnings per share by 8% to 11%, generate as much in free cash flow as net income, and increase dividends in line with earnings while maintaining a payout ratio of around 30%.

In short, I expect a high single-digit percentage increase in dividends every year for at least the next five years. Even if business conditions were to worsen and 3M's performance falls short of its own estimates, it's unlikely to break its dividend streak thanks to a conservative payout ratio that leaves enough room for dividend increases even in a challenging year. 3M's dividend yield of 2.7% might not be tempting, but a steadily rising dividend should prove more rewarding for those planning for or in retirement than an eye-popping, unsafe yield.

The tech dividend play that offers both stability and growth

Chris Neiger (Apple): Apple may not be the first stock that comes to mind when you think of dividend investments, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be a strong contender for your portfolio. Let me explain why.

Apple pays a modest dividend yield of about 1.4% right now, but investors should know that the company has a low payout ratio of about 24%, meaning Apple has lots of room to continue increasing its dividend.

Additionally, Apple has proved that it can consistently grow its business and find new areas to boost sales despite naysayers repeatedly saying that the company lacks innovation. Take, for example, Apple's recent report on sales from its services business. In fiscal 2018, Apple brought in about $37.2 billion from its services (the App Store, AppleCare, Apple Music, Apple Pay, etc.), representing an increase of 24% from the year before. That's not only fantastic growth, but it means Apple services now account for 14% of Apple's top line. The iPhone is still the company's real breadwinner, but Apple has proved with its services segment that it can find new ways to make money from its customers.

If all of that weren't enough, investors should know that Apple is still experiencing strong revenue and earnings growth, especially for a company of its size. In the fourth quarter, Apple's revenue jumped 20% to $62.9 billion, and its earnings per share spiked 41% to $2.91. All of this means investors who are searching for a solid dividend stock that can continue increasing its yield and bringing in fantastic sales and earnings should find everything they're looking for in Apple.