It's understandable why so many investors love dividend stocks. Even if you're not an income investor, the ability to generate some extra passive income from your portfolio is appealing. And globally, more than half of publicly traded companies do distribute some of their profits to shareholders on a regular basis.

However, with the average dividend among S&P 500 stocks yielding about 1.5% and the 10-year U.S. Treasury yielding just under 1.7%, serious income investors will need to look harder to find good investments that offer higher dividend yields.

At their current share prices, Navient (NASDAQ:NAVI), Unum Group (NYSE:UNM), United Bankshares (NASDAQ:UBSI), and U.S. Bancorp (NYSE:USB) all pay dividends that yield around 3% or better annually. They all took some hits from the pandemic in 2020, and investors bid their share prices downward as a result. However, with economic activity returning to levels that are closer to normal and interest rates rising from the rock-bottom lows they sank to last year, the tailwinds should pick up for these companies.

Roll of $100 bills next to a dividends sign.

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Navient

Navient is a student loan provider that faced difficulties in 2020 as many borrowers went into forbearance. At one point during the second quarter, 28.5% of its federal loan borrowers and 14.7% of its private loan borrowers were in forbearance. By the end of the year, though, it saw significant improvement, with just 13.8% of federal loans and 3.9% of private loans in forbearance.

Navient has remained committed to returning capital to shareholders through both share repurchases and dividends. Last year, the company spent $523 million on share repurchases and dividends, repurchasing its stock at one of the cheapest valuations in the company's history. In total, the company paid out $123 million in dividends during the year, giving the stock an attractive yield of nearly 4.4%.

The company expects lending conditions to improve in 2021, as loan forbearances decline and as more students return to college campuses for the 2021-22 academic year. This bodes well for the stock and its dividend, and management has committed another $400 million to dividend payouts and share repurchases for 2021 as well, making Navient a solid income stock.

Unum Group

Life and disability insurance specialist Unum Group faced struggles last year due both to increased deaths from coronavirus and high unemployment, which reduced its revenues from employee benefits policies. The company expects the first half of this year to be difficult, but anticipates a recovery coming in the second half, with normal growth returning in 2022. Widespread vaccinations will help the company see a reduction in the mortality rates of those it covers. The employment situation is expected to improve as well, a positive for the insurer as more people in the workforce means more people being covered by employee benefits.

At current share prices, the company's dividend yields 4.%. Unum distributed $232 million to shareholders in 2020. With a good yield, Unum Group is a solid income stock that is also positioned to rise.

United Bankshares

United Bankshares is a regional bank operating in the mid-Atlantic region. It's the No. 1 community bank in the Washington, D.C., area and the No. 2 bank in West Virginia, based on total deposits.

The bank has a 47-year streak of annual dividend hikes, and in 2020, it paid out $172 million to shareholders, giving it a yield of 3.6%. Management's commitment to increasing its dividend is admirable, and is supported by the bank's consistent growth. In the past 10 years, the bank has grown its net interest income and net income at compound annual rates of 10% and 14%, respectively. In addition, the bank saw its payout ratio -- its total dividends as a percentage of its total earnings -- near a 10-year low at 56.3%. This is a positive sign, as it means the bank's earnings last year were more than adequate for the company payout its dividends, and is also a good sign it will be able to maintain future dividend increases.

The bank has also expanded into the Carolinas with its purchase of Carolina Finance, giving it a footprint in one of the fastest-growing regions in the U.S. United Bankshares' commitment to growth on both the top  and bottom lines, as well as its consistent dividend growth, make it an income stock you shouldn't ignore.

U.S. Bancorp

U.S. Bancorp is regarded as one of the best-run banks in the country, but it faced some challenges in 2020, due in part to its lack of investment banking operations. While many financial institutions were able to get a boost from their investment banking units to offset the headwinds besetting their other businesses, U.S. Bancorp didn't have that luxury. Despite this, the bank still outperformed its peers across a number of key metrics in 2020.

At current share prices, the bank's dividend yields nearly 3%, and it paid out $2.5 billion in dividends in 2020. Another positive sign is that the bank has increased its dividend on annual basis since 2011.

The bank is yet another institution that will benefit from the return of economic activity to near its pre-pandemic levels. Management is optimistic that loan growth will resume in 2021, spurred on by increased corporate loan activity as well as higher credit card spending by consumers. With billions of dollars of capital to put to work, U.S. Bancorp is in a prime position to benefit when the economy does normalize, and is another great income stock for investors to consider.

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.