Let's face it, retirees shouldn't invest the same way younger investors do. Younger people have more time to ride out the market's sweeping ebbs and flows. Older investors living on their investment income, conversely, need that income to be amazingly reliable.

With this in mind, here's a closer look at three dividend-paying stocks with above-average yields and below-average risk. You may never get what's considered meaningful growth out of them. But you will enjoy being able to sleep well at night if you own them, knowing the dividend payment is well protected.

1. Verizon

Dividend yield: 4.4%

Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) doesn't need much in the way of an introduction. The $235 billion behemoth serves more than 94 million wireless customers and another 13 million internet, television, and landline accounts. It's the biggest cellphone service provider in the United States, as measured by its customer base as well as its market cap.

Here's one thing investors should keep in mind: In the capital-intensive telecom business, there's enormous upside for larger players over their rivals, and Verizon is well equipped to spend as much as needed to hold on to its market share lead. 

A retired couple reviewing their portfolio while sitting at a table.

Image source: Getty Images.

And it's doing just that.

While Verizon has budgeted around $18 billion worth of capital expenditures for 2021 versus T-Mobile's earmarked $12 billion versus AT&T's indicated spending plans of $21 billion, bear in mind AT&T's capital deployment plan was published before the company made the decision to sell its WarnerMedia arm to Discovery. That process could prove not only distracting, but also costly.

Also bear in mind that while AT&T had planned to spend more than Verizon in 2021, Verizon easily outspent its chief rival over the course of the past several years on a fiberoptic network that now serves as the much-needed backbone for its 5G network.

Now the investment is paying off. In its first-ever review of wireless 5G networks, Root Metrics rated Verizon's as the nation's best for all seven criteria considered.

Capital spending plans seem of little importance to investors mostly interested in Verizon's dividend, but there's a clear connection between the two. For Verizon to continue affording its dividend, it must attract and retain paying customers that make their decisions based on the quality of their connections.

2. General Dynamics

Dividend yield: 2.5%

Defense contractors like General Dynamics (NYSE:GD) can be tricky names to trade. They're largely dependent on governments' (the U.S. and its allies) willingness to spend on military hardware and services, which is an oft-politicized matter. And even when approved military budgets are growing, growth for the industry is typically capped at single-digit paces. Mordor Intelligence estimates that the United States' defense contracting industry will see average revenue growth of only 2% between now and 2030.

What the military hardware industry -- and General Dynamics in particular -- lacks in revenue growth firepower, however, it makes up for in consistency and always-improving efficiency.

Take General Dynamics' dividend as an example. The defense contractor has raised its dividend payout every year for the past 24 years now, and by more than a little. The average annual payout increase for the past 10 years stands at 9.7%, handily topping inflation. That's steep dividend growth to be sure, but it's never added strain to the company's operation. The current dividend payout ratio (of net profits) of just under 40% is pretty much the same payout ratio we've seen for the past several years.

The kicker: General Dynamics is just one year away from earning the title of Dividend Aristocrat, a company that has raised its dividend payouts for at least 25 consecutive years. It's unlikely the company's going to balk on those upped payouts when it's so close to that accolade, which brings stature and buying interest with it.

3. Prudential Financial

Dividend yield: 4.2%

Life and health insurer Prudential Financial (NYSE:PRU) certainly didn't escape the fallout from the contagion. But dreaded COVID-19 payouts hardly upended the company. The insurer's 2020 operating bottom line of $5.1 billion was a modest 12% less than 2019's comparable figure of $5.8 billion despite losses suffered by its group insurance and individual life insurance units.

See, a sizable chunk of Prudential's revenue comes from its investment management arm, which faces only the risks of soured stock market and poor stock picking. Its workplace solution also consists of retirement plans that have nothing to do with insurance, and outside of its corporate customers, individual annuities sold directly to retail customers also make up a big piece of the company's top line. Nothing about this mix has changed in the meantime, and to the extent that the company does depend on underwriting, in some ways the coronavirus is proving a boon for insurers by underscoring the need for business-continuity coverage and life insurance.

And it's certainly a business model that's well suited for driving dividends.

Although some customers cancel plans by simply stopping payments, most consumers and employers pay their insurance premiums faithfully. And investment management fees are a flat percentage of the amount being managed, and are collected automatically from the pooled fund. Therefore, not only is Prudential's current dividend well protected, but the company's 12-year streak of raising its payout is apt to remain alive into the foreseeable future.

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.