When the going gets rough on Wall Street, smart investors turn to dividend stocks. Companies that pay a regular dividend are usually profitable on a recurring basis and have previously navigated their way through one or more downturns.

What's more, dividend stocks have crushed non-payers in the return column over long periods. A 2013 report from J.P. Morgan Asset Management, a division of JPMorgan Chase, showed that companies initiating and increasing their payouts averaged a 9.5% annual return between 1972 and 2012. That compared to a meager 1.6% annualized return over the same four-decade period for companies that didn't pay a dividend.

But not all income stocks are created equally. When it comes to the safety of their payouts and the size of their distributions, these are five of the safest high-yield dividend stocks to buy for 2023.

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Enterprise Products Partners: 7.98% yield

One of the safest and smartest high-yield dividend stocks investors can buy for the new year is oil and gas stock Enterprise Products Partners (EPD -0.87%).

Admittedly, some folks are going to cringe at the idea of putting money to work in oil stocks after what happened in 2020. A historic demand drawdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic sent crude oil and natural gas demand off a cliff and crushed drillers. With talk of a U.S. recession materializing in 2023, there's obvious concern for commodity-driven businesses.

However, Enterprise Products Partners isn't a driller. It's a midstream operator, which effectively means it's an energy middleman tasked with transporting, storing, and processing crude oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids, and already refined products.

The beauty of midstream operators like Enterprise is they almost always sign long-term, fixed-fee or volume-based contracts with drilling companies that remove spot-price fluctuations in oil and natural gas from the equation. In other words, Enterprise can accurately predict its annual operating cash flow regardless of how volatile energy commodity prices are.

If you're wondering why this cash-flow predictability is so important, look no further than Enterprise Products Partners' growth mechanism: new projects. The company has approximately $5.5 billion invested in over a dozen major projects, many of which are geared toward storing or processing natural gas liquids. A majority of these infrastructure projects are slated to come online by the end of next year.

With transparent cash flow and a 24-year streak (and counting) of increasing its base annual distribution, Enterprise Products Partners is a no-brainer buy in 2023 for income seekers. 

Philip Morris International: 5.07% yield

A second extremely safe, high-yield dividend stock to buy for 2023 is tobacco behemoth Philip Morris International (PM 0.84%).

The knock against big tobacco is that, over time, consumers have become increasingly aware of the dangers of tobacco use. This awareness, coupled with stringent advertising laws for tobacco companies in select developed markets, is weighing on the growth potential of tobacco stocks. But Philip Morris has a few tricks up its sleeve.

To begin with, it's an international player with a presence in more than 180 countries. This geographic diversity means it can offset shipment volume weakness in developed markets with higher organic growth opportunities in emerging markets where tobacco remains an affordable luxury for the middle class.

To build on the above, the nicotine found in tobacco is an addictive chemical. This lure to tobacco products is what allows Philip Morris substantial pricing power. It also doesn't hurt that its premium brand, Marlboro, held nearly a sixth of global cigarette-market share in the September-ended quarter.

Investors shouldn't discount the company's ongoing rollout of smoke-free products, either. Philip Morris' IQOS heated tobacco system increased its share of the heated tobacco markets it operates in to 7.6% through the first nine months of the year. That's up 120 basis points from the comparable period in 2021. 

Tobacco stocks may not be the growth story they once were, but Philip Morris can continue to deliver for patient investors.

U.S. Bancorp: 4.56% yield

The third high-yield income stock that makes for an exceptionally safe investment in 2023 is U.S. Bancorp (USB -1.00%), the parent company of U.S. Bank.

Under normal circumstances, bank stocks wouldn't be considered a "safe" investment during a bear market or with the possibility of a U.S. recession on the horizon. However, this isn't your typical bear market.

Instead of the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates to spur lending, the nation's central bank is scrambling to raise rates fast enough to tame historically high inflation. That's a scenario to benefit large banks with outstanding variable-rate loans. During the third quarter, U.S. Bancorp reported $3.86 billion in net-interest income, which was close to 21% higher than the comparable quarter in 2021. With interest rates set to climb even more, U.S. Bancorp should be able to more than offset near-term loan losses with higher net-interest income.

Another key point about U.S. Bancorp is that its management team has historically been conservative. Whereas riskier derivative investments wrecked the income statements and balance sheets of money-center banks during and after the financial crisis, U.S. Bancorp's straightforward focus on growing its loans and deposits has paid off.

But the real selling point here is the company's industry-leading digital engagement. A whopping 82% of its active customers were banking digitally as of the end of August, and 62% of total loan sales were completed online or via mobile app. These digital engagements cost just a fraction of what in-person and phone-based interactions run, and help explain why U.S. Bancorp consistently delivers some of the highest return on assets among big banks.

A family of four sitting on a couch, each engaged with their own wireless device.

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AT&T and Verizon Communications: 6% yield and 7.03% yield

The fourth and fifth safe high-yield dividend stocks to buy for 2023 are telecom stocks AT&T (T 1.33%) and Verizon Communications (VZ 0.43%). The reason I'm lumping these highly profitable companies together is because they share many of the same catalysts and headwinds, yet both deliver inflation-fighting yields of 6% and 7%.

Similar to big tobacco, the growth heyday for telecom providers has long since passed. But this doesn't mean large-scale telecom companies are devoid of catalysts or needle-moving events.

One benefit of owning telecom stocks is that access to wireless services and owning a smartphone have evolved into basic necessities. During the first-half of 2022, which featured two quarters of U.S. gross domestic product declines, wireless churn rates remained near historic lows for both AT&T and Verizon. The takeaway is that investors can expect predictable cash flow from both companies in any economic environment.

AT&T and Verizon are also ideally set up to benefit from the 5G revolution. Although both are spending billions of dollars to upgrade their infrastructure to support 5G download speeds, these investments are already proving to be well worth it. Verizon's wireless revenue jumped 10% during the third quarter, while AT&T logged its fastest wireless revenue growth in more than a decade

Lastly, AT&T and Verizon have each enjoyed steady net broadband additions. Even though broadband growth is relatively modest, it's providing both companies with bundling opportunities designed to boost their operating margins.

With AT&T and Verizon both valued at less than 8 times Wall Street's forward-year consensus earnings, there's a reasonably safe floor beneath both stocks.