It's never a bad time to buy dividend stocks. After all, stocks that pay their investors back have been shown to outperform the non-dividend-paying variety.

However, with markets rattled by the coronavirus outbreak and fears of an upcoming recession, now looks like an especially good time to add safe, reliable dividend stocks to your portfolio. These defensive companies tend to do best in down markets and recessionary climates, as their businesses are less sensitive to the overall macroeconomic climate than others. 

Keep reading to see why CVS Health (NYSE:CVS)3M (NYSE:MMM), and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) are all on this list of three top dividend stocks to buy now.

One man handing a $100 billion bill to another

Image source: Getty Images.

1. CVS Health

The nation's largest pharmacy chain (and parent of health insurance company Aetna) has only modestly outperformed the S&P 500 during the coronavirus epidemic. The company earlier warned that Aetna's memberships and collections have been affected by the outbreak due to layoffs that have reduced insurance rolls and elective procedures being deferred. 

However, certain parts of CVS's business appear to be booming, as the company last week launched its most ambitious hiring initiative ever, with plans to bring on 50,000 new employees. Demand for its services, including delivery and front-of-house products has surged as non-essential stores across the country close and Americans stock up on medicines and preventative products like hand sanitizer to ward off COVID-19.

That trend is likely to persist even after the current outbreak fades, as Americans will still be wary of catching the disease and will look to CVS for items such as surgical masks. They're also likely to be more vigilant when it comes to their own personal health, meaning more Americans may choose to get a flu shot and take advantage of CVS's Minute Clinics, a low-cost version of urgent care. Meanwhile, Americans will also get the elective surgeries they've been putting off.

Today, CVS offers a dividend yield of 3.4% and is trading a P/E ratio of less than 9, making it look exceptionally cheap for a company that has become essential during the health crisis.

2. 3M

Like CVS, 3M, the maker of everything from scotch tape to medical equipment, also finds its business in high demand during the current crisis. 3M makes the N95 respirator that has become a prized possession for those in the medical profession, as well as everyday Americans looking to stay safe.

In response to an overwhelming demand and a shortage that has sometimes led to price gouging, the company said it would more than double its production of the masks to nearly 100 million a month. 3M also said it would maximize production of hand sanitizers, disinfectants, and filtration solutions. Additionally, the manufacturer plans to step up investments, especially in the U.S., to expand global capacity by 30% over the next 12 months.

Last week, it forged a partnership with Ford to increase production of 3M's powered air purifying respirators, and is looking for other ways to expand production of key medical supplies and devices. As the pandemic spreads around the world, 3M should see demand increase for a range of its products.

As a dividend stock, it's hard to find a safer candidate as 3M is a Dividend Aristocrat with 62 consecutive years of dividend hikes, and currently offers a yield of 4.4%.

3. Verizon

While the fortunes of tech companies are mixed in today's market, there's no question that Americans are depending on telecoms like Verizon more than ever as millions are now working from home. Not only is Verizon the nation's biggest wireless carrier, but it also has a substantial broadband and cable business through Fios.

At a time when a number of Americans are likely exceeding their data limits, Verizon has stepped up to offer freebies like 15 GB of additional high-speed data, and has said it will waive late fees and overage charges for those that may be financially affected by COVID-19.

Nonetheless, additional time at home could lead other customers to upgrade cable packages, data plans, and broadband service. 

The telecom giant is already coming off a fourth quarter that saw its highest fourth quarter wireless additions in six years, and it has been more disciplined than rival AT&T, which has taken on substantial debt to fund acquisitions of DirecTV and Time Warner that have thus far had middling results.

Operating in what's essentially a recession-proof industry, Verizon should be able to keep delivering solid returns for investors through the crisis and the downturn that will likely follow. The company has raised its dividend every year since 2007, and now pays a 4.7% yield. Thus far, Verizon shares have held up well during the crisis, easily outperforming AT&T, and the stock is actually up slightly for the month of March.

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.