Plenty of stocks pay out dividends, but only 65 are Dividend Aristocrats. To reach this elite status, a stock must be included in the S&P 500 index and have 25 consecutive years of payout increases under its belt. Now, a history of growing dividends isn't enough to make a stock a buy. But there are plenty of reasons to add these three Dividend Aristocrats to your portfolio and hang onto them forever.

1. Lowe's

Beyond being a Dividend Aristocrat, Lowe's (NYSE:LOW) is also one of just 27 stocks that have earned a spot on the list of Dividend Kings by recording 50 or more uninterrupted years of payout hikes. In Lowe's case, it has distributed a dividend every year since 1961, when it went public, and has raised its payout for 58 consecutive years. After its latest 9% increase, at its current share price, it's yielding 1.47%.

A man uses a drill during a home improvement project.

Image source: Getty Images.

By the time many companies achieve a decades-long track record of dividend increases, their high-growth days are long behind them. What makes Lowe's an exciting dividend stock, though, is that it could still deliver strong share price gains for investors. Both Lowe's and its rival Home Depot (NYSE:HD) just experienced a banner year as customers hunkered down at home and spent more of their disposable cash on home improvement projects rather than on vacations or dining out. Home Depot is still more profitable, but Lowe's stock has performed better in 2020, with year-to-date total returns of 38.37% as of late December, compared to 25.63% for Home Depot.

Of course, the odds of either retailer sustaining their recent levels of growth once life gets back to something close to normal are slim. But Lowe's still has plenty of room to grow, given its recent e-commerce improvements and its sharpened focus on increasing its sales to professional contractors. That strategy could pay off once 2020's DIYers return to their pre-pandemic routines, particularly if home sales remain strong. Analysts predict that Lowe's earnings will grow at an average rate of 20% annually over the next five years, making its dividend mere icing on the cake.

2. Realty Income

Realty Income (NYSE:O) is a 2020 newcomer to the Dividend Aristocrats list. It's a real estate investment trust (REIT), and those tend to be favorites of income investors because they're required by law to distribute 90% of their taxable income to shareholders. Realty Income is also known for paying out dividends monthly instead of quarterly -- indeed, it has even branded itself The Monthly Dividend Company. With a yield of 4.56% at current share prices, it has notched 605 consecutive monthly dividend payments and 4.4% compound average annual dividend growth since it went public in 1994.

While 2020 was an abysmal year for many REITs, particularly those that own office and retail properties, Realty Income has been relatively insulated from the pandemic fallout. Although its buildings are mostly occupied by retailers, its four largest categories of tenants are convenience stores, drug stores, grocery stores, and dollar stores -- all of which tend to weather recessions fairly well. Although it has some gym and movie theater tenants, it collected 93% of rents during the third quarter. While its shares are down about 16% year to date, Realty Income remains a solid bet for any investor who wants monthly income from their portfolio.

3. Colgate-Palmolive

Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) is another Dividend King, with 57 consecutive years of payout hikes and a current yield of 2.06%. Its catalog of products -- toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, laundry detergent, deodorant, pet products, etc. -- is fairly well-diversified, but not exactly thrilling. Yet that's part of what makes Colgate-Palmolive a great defensive stock to own forever: Your tooth-brushing and showering habits probably have zero correlation with the health of the economy.

With a 41.1% global market share for toothpaste and a 31.6% global market share for manual toothbrushes in 2019, this company is clearly positioned to survive in the toughest of times. Plus, it is known for maintaining strong free cash flow, which ensures its dividend increases will be sustainable.

Colgate-Palmolive may be a boring business. It's unlikely to deliver outsize returns. But when the market is volatile, you'll be glad you have this boring defensive stock in your portfolio.

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.