The yield on the 10-year T-note recently broke 5%, the highest level reached in the past five years. Backed by the federal government, that yield can be pretty tempting in a declining market.

Stop and think for a moment, though. The reason we buy stocks is because they offer superior long-term returns. If we buy them when they're falling, we get in at lower prices. But if volatility has you spooked, it may be time to look for a more stable investment that offers a healthy annual payout.

Of course, certain stocks can do that too -- without sacrificing the opportunity for future price appreciation.

If only we could get the best of both worlds ...
Washington Mutual (NYSE:WM) had a growing dividend yield of 3.9% back at the beginning of 2000. Over the previous five years, the bank had demonstrated a commitment to rewarding shareholders by just about doubling its dividend.

That commitment has continued. The dividend has increased another 224% since 2000. If you had bought shares that day, you would be sitting on an effective 12.7% yield.

That's right ... 12.7%!

No bond can match that. And it's only going to get better as the company continues to raise its dividend.

That's not all, Johnny ...
The icing on the cake is that your shares would now be worth 150% more than what you paid. And while the stock has been mostly stagnant for the past few years, the rising yield should give you the patience to hold on.

I mean, WaMu boasts a fat 5.1% yield right now. That's about what a 10-year Treasury note will get you -- but the note is guaranteed not to do two things:

  1. Raise its payout.
  2. Increase in price.

Your daily baseball metaphor ...
Washington Mutual fits the profile of what I call the dividend triple play -- high yield, history of dividend increases, and share-price appreciation. Luckily, it's not the only company out there making this play.

Cigarette maker Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI), mining company Southern Copper (NYSE:PCU), banking giant Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), and coal and natural gas concern Penn Virginia Resource Partners (NYSE:PVR) all are triple-play companies. They all have dividend yields higher than 4.5% and have grown operating earnings by 10% or better each of the past five years. They have also all at least doubled or nearly doubled both their dividends and stock price over the same time frame.  

The Foolish bottom line
If you want to hear about other companies with the potential to make triple plays down the road, give the Motley Fool Income Investor service a try. Advisor James Early aims to find the companies that could give you market-beating returns from the dividends alone, just like the Washington Mutual example. Add market-beating price appreciation to the mix -- currently the service is beating the S&P 500 by five percentage points -- and you have a winning combination.

Try it now for 30 days and find a better place to earn investment income when the market stumbles.

Fool contributor Jim Mueller owns shares of Southern Copper, but no other company mentioned. Bank of America and Washington Mutual are Income Investor recommendations. The Fool's disclosure policy is never called out from a triple play.