What will you use to generate income in retirement?

Many investors think low-risk fixed-income products like Treasury bonds and CDs will do the trick. But as retirees have learned in the past few years, these products may not be enough. Since 2001, for instance, the yield on the 10-year Treasury hovered between 3% and 5% -- generating a paltry $300 to $500 per year for each $10,000 invested.

That's simply not enough to live on today, let alone 10 or 20 years down the road.

So what's an investor to do?

Get started now
At first glance, large dividend-paying stocks with single-digit growth rates don't seem all that attractive, especially with stocks like Monsanto (NYSE:MON), Agilent Technologies (NYSE:A), and Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) burning up the charts over the last month. But large dividend-paying stocks just might end up being your best friends when retirement finally rolls around.

The catch is that to maximize the utility of dividend-paying stocks, you should purchase them well before you actually need the income. The longer you hold a dividend payer, the bigger your dividends tend to get.

For example, an investor who picked up $10,000 worth of Altria in January 1970 initially acquired 277 shares, a stake that would have started by paying out a mere $69 per quarter at the time.

That wasn't much then, but after 38 years of stock splits, our hypothetical investor now has 26,592 shares of Altria, another 26,592 shares of the recently spun-off Philip Morris International and 18,402 shares of the earlier spin-off of Kraft -- altogether worth $2.5 million today. Perhaps, more importantly, our investor would be receiving about $100,000 each year in dividends. (It should also be noted that these figures would be even larger if the investor reinvested dividends over the years.)

It's hard to believe, but this one stock alone could have funded your retirement.

Staring you in the face
While Altria is an incredible example, investors in other stalwarts have seen similar (albeit somewhat less spectacular) successes over the same time period:


No. of Shares,
January 1970*

No. of Shares,
June 2008

Current Value
of Shares


Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)





General Electric (NYSE:GE)





Anheuser-Busch (NYSE:BUD)





*$10,000 invested on Jan. 2, 1970.
**Based on estimated annual dividends from Yahoo! Finance.

Remarkably, the companies listed in the table above were already established names in 1970. You didn't have to dig around to find them or take a flier on a hot new technology. These companies were simply doing what they had done for decades -- growing steadily and rewarding shareholders.

Foolish bottom line
So what are the best stocks to generate income for your retirement? The simple answer: stocks that pay you back.

But all dividends aren't created equal. That's why Fool advisors James Early and Andy Cross' Motley Fool Income Investor team looks for businesses with strong track records that are set up nicely for future growth. If you want to see the rest of the Income Investor recommendations, follow this link for a free 30-day trial of the service.

Time is the only thing stopping you from reaping the rewards of dividend stocks for years to come, so get started now!

This article was originally published on Dec. 22, 2006. It has been updated.

Todd Wenning does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Kraft and Johnson & Johnson are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Dell and Anheuser-Busch are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. The Fool's disclosure policy pays dividends every day.