In February, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) rocked the markets with news that it was slashing its dividend by a mammoth 66%. That's a huge blow to investors who counted on that dividend. The danger ultimately comes down to cash flow as Intel was burning through cash from its day-to-day operations, and that is a huge red flag for income investors.

Three dividend stocks that look to be in much better shape and have stronger cash flows than Intel are AbbVie (ABBV 3.11%), Costco Wholesale (COST -0.46%), and Microsoft (MSFT -1.79%). Not only are their yields relatively safe, but they are likely to rise as well.

1. AbbVie

Drugmaker AbbVie is a Dividend King known for raising its payouts on a regular basis. Plus, it's a cash cow as it has generated more than $24 billion in free cash flow last year, which is more than double the $10 billion it paid in dividends.

The biggest worry surrounding the company today is replacing sales for top-selling drug Humira, which may bring in 37% less in revenue this year as biosimilars become available. But the company has been preparing for this and is confident that over the long run its other immunology drugs, Skyrizi and Rinvoq, will more than make up the shortfall.

This year, AbbVie is projecting that its adjusted earnings per share will be between $10.70 and $11.10, which is well above the $5.92 that it pays in dividends per share on an annual basis. Last year, the company raised its dividend payment by 5%. A similar rate hike could happen this year as AbbVie's business remains strong with the cash continuing to pour in.

At 3.9%, this is the highest-yielding stock on this list, paying more than double the S&P 500 average of 1.7%. AbbVie is a solid long-term buy for both dividend and growth investors. 

2. Costco

Big-box retailer Costco may look underwhelming as a dividend stock given that its yield is a paltry 0.7%. But for dividend investors who want to buy a stock and not worry about it, this can be an underrated investment.

The company has paid a special dividend out to investors in particularly strong years. The most recent was a $10 per share dividend in 2020. Those types of payments won't happen every year, but they can make up for the low quarterly dividend payments. In essence, you're benefiting from the years when Costco does well.

It's a sound strategy because it means high dividend payments aren't becoming impediments to the company's growth, and if the business has a good year, you could be handsomely rewarded for holding on to the stock.

Costco's incredibly low payout ratio of 26% also makes it probable that the company will increase its dividend payments in the future as it has already been doing so thus far. Last year, the retailer raised its dividend by 14%. If Costco were to continue increasing its payouts at that rate, it would take approximately six years for its dividend to double in value.

The company has generated $2.9 billion in free cash flow over the past four quarters, which is nearly twice as much as what it pays in dividends ($1.5 billion). Overall, Costco is a solid buy, as its business has generated growth amid inflation and a pandemic, demonstrating impressive resiliency.

3. Microsoft

Another stock with a low yield but lots of potential for increase in the future is Microsoft. The tech giant, known for its Windows operating system and Office suite of products, pays just 28% of profits out as dividends. It hasn't paid out special dividends like Costco has, but it has also been making generous increases to its dividend. Last year, Microsoft boosted its payout by 10% to $0.68. The yield now sits at around 1.1%.

Microsoft is a money-making machine, bringing in nearly $60 billion in free cash flow over its past four quarters. By comparison, it has paid less than $19 billion in dividends during that time frame. From both an earnings and cash flow standpoint, there's plenty of room for Microsoft to keep raising its dividend payments in the future.

The company also generates impressive profit margins of over 30%. That, combined with the company's endless pursuit of growth -- which includes its pending acquisition of video game maker Activision Blizzard and investment in ChatGPT maker OpenAI -- is why Microsoft is an exceptional dividend stock to buy and hold forever.