Once you retire, your relationship with your money changes. Instead of saving and investing to build your nest egg, you're spending that nest egg to cover your costs of living. Your spending cash comes not from your labor, but from Social Security, dividends and interest on your investments, and selling some of those investments to raise money.

With that in mind, dividend-paying stocks can be a great way to boost the cash available to you in retirement. The income they produce can go toward replenishing the assets you're spending down to cover your costs, helping with your portfolio's ability to meet your future needs. These three top dividend stocks can help you build a plan that gets you to a better retirement.

Senior man with piggy bank and money falling from the sky

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1. A pipeline company that has cleaned up its balance sheet

North American energy pipeline company Kinder Morgan (NYSE:KMI) got into trouble a few years ago when it overleveraged its balance sheet. As a result, bond rating agencies threatened to lower its debt to junk bond levels, which would have massively increased its cost to borrow. To protect itself from that potential catastrophe, Kinder Morgan slashed its dividend and used the freed-up cash to strengthen its balance sheet.

While that cut hurt its reputation among income-oriented investors, it was exactly what the company needed to thrive operationally. Thanks to its cleaned-up balance sheet, Kinder Morgan has been able to begin restoring its dividend. That includes a modest increase in 2020 -- one that came despite oil briefly trading below $0 during the year.

For investors who recognize that today's Kinder Morgan is far stronger than the company was prior to its dividend cut, it presents a compelling opportunity for your consideration. Its yield is currently over 7%, and that payout is well covered by the cash its operations generate. In addition, with capital expenditures slowing next year, the company should find it even easier to distribute that cash to its owners. It's even projecting another modest dividend increase for 2021.

2. An insurer that touts its rock-solid financial position

The rock of Gibraltar

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Insurance is the business of pricing risk. When insurance companies price their risks appropriately, they make money off the premiums they collect by investing them until they need to be paid out. When their risks cost far more than they project, those same insurance companies rely on their balance sheets to be able to make up the difference.

Balance-sheet strength is how insurance companies make it through tough times in their industry. Prudential Financial (NYSE:PRU) is an insurance company that is so proud of how rock solid its balance sheet is that it uses an actual rock as its corporate logo. It backs up that boast with over $400 billion in bonds and over $20 billion in cash and equivalents on its balance sheet as part of its net equity above $65 billion. 

That means a lot can go wrong above what it's expecting, and Prudential Financial can still wind up OK. Because it has such a solid foundation, Prudential can afford to pay its shareholders a generous dividend, which currently sits around a 5.7% yield. It has paid its owners a $1.10 per share quarterly dividend over the past four quarters. With those dividends very well covered by its operating cash flow, there's good reason to believe it can continue making those payments to shareholders.

3. A monthly dividend payer with a pristine balance sheet

Broadmark Realty Capital (NYSE:BRMK) has a fairly uncommon business model. It's a hard-money lender focused on construction loans. It is structured as a real estate investment trust, which means it needs to pay 90% of its earnings as dividends . That assures that as long as the business is successful, its shareholders will get paid, which they do via a monthly dividend of $0.06 per share. That gives it a current yield around 6.9%. 

Unlike many companies in the lending business, Broadmark Realty carries no debt of its own on its balance sheet. That gives it incredible flexibility in its operations, since it means it is not beholden to lenders of its own that would otherwise be able to restrict its operations to protect their interests.

In the middle of a pandemic that has disrupted much of the supply chain needed in the construction industry, such flexibility is truly a competitive advantage. As a result, it is very likely that Broadmark Realty will both survive the coronavirus and emerge even stronger.

Decent income is available, if you know where to look

Although Kinder Morgan, Prudential Financial, and Broadmark Realty all operate in different businesses, the theme that ties them all together is that they all have decent balance-sheet strength. In these uncertain times, that can be the difference between a business that can sustain its dividend and one that is forced to cut it. If you're a retiree seeking income from dividend stocks, it's certainly a key feature you should be looking for.

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.