There's something comforting about receiving a steady influx of cash from your investments. That's one of the reasons why dividend stocks tend to hold up well during stock market downturns. Investors appreciate the income they provide.

And as their yields rise, dividend stocks become more attractive to value-focused investors. This can put a floor under their stock prices, further helping to limit losses for shareholders during market declines.

Best of all, market crashes can give you an opportunity to scoop up the best dividend stocks at bargain prices. In that regard, here are three outstanding dividend-paying companies to place on your watch list. If you get a chance to buy these stocks when they're on sale, consider pouncing on them.

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1. The cloud colossus

Microsoft (MSFT -0.70%) gives investors many ways to win, which also helps to limit their risk. The tech specialist is benefiting as businesses increasingly shift their operations to the cloud. New cloud-based versions of Microsoft's venerable Windows operating system and Office productivity software have helped enable working from home during the pandemic. At the same time, Microsoft's Azure cloud infrastructure platform, Xbox gaming system, and cybersecurity solutions are also fueling its impressive growth. 

The massive profits these businesses generate make it possible for Microsoft to reward its shareholders with a rapidly rising dividend and bountiful stock buybacks. Microsoft produced a staggering $61.3 billion in net income in fiscal 2021, which ended on June 30. That, in turn, allowed Microsoft to pay out $16.5 billion in cash dividends and conduct $27.4 billion in share repurchases. 

Microsoft's stock currently yields a modest 0.8%, but that's largely a reflection of its tremendous share price appreciation. Microsoft has raised its dividend payout by a respectable 55% over the past five years, while its stock price is up an incredible 402% during that time. And with its cloud strategy driving its expansion, Microsoft's investors can expect plenty more dividend increases in the years ahead.

2. The garbage giant

If you're worried about a stock market crash, check out Waste Management (WM -0.08%). The aptly named provider of waste solutions has a proven ability to turn trash into cash for its shareholders in all types of market environments. 

Waste Management's vast network of collection sites, landfills, and recycling centers form a wide moat that helps to protect its profits from competitive threats. Rigid regulations and vehement opposition from homeowners make it nearly impossible to build new waste facilities in markets where Waste Management already operates. With its revenue and cash flow well secured, the garbage king is one of the safest stocks available in the market today. 

Waste Management is thus able to pass much of its free cash flow on to investors via a dependable and steadily growing dividend. After boosting its cash payout by 5.5% to an annual rate of $2.30 per share in December, its stock currently yields a solid 1.5%. And with 18 consecutive years of dividend increases, shareholders should expect this trash-fueled income stream to continue to rise over time. 

3. The tech titan

Apple (AAPL -1.75%) is another dividend powerhouse. With roughly $88 billion in net cash on its fortress-like balance sheet and $95 billion in trailing-12-month free cash flow, this tech heavyweight is the type of stock that can help you sleep well at night. That's because Apple's unmatched financial fortitude has allowed it to not just survive, but thrive during economic downturns, such as the current coronavirus crisis.

Booming iPhone sales are driving broad-based growth across Apple's ecosystem of devices and services during the pandemic. Apple's revenue surged 36% to a staggering $81.4 billion in its fiscal third quarter, while its net income soared 93% to $21.7 billion. iPhone sales rose a stunning 50%, and Apple enjoyed double-digit growth in all its major product categories. 

Apple's incredible profit and cash flow generation allowed it to reward investors with $29 billion in dividends and share repurchases in the third quarter alone. And while its stock currently yields a modest 0.6%, Apple has increased its dividend by nearly 55% over the past five years. That's a trend that's likely to continue well into the coming decade.