If you're a dividend enthusiast (and really, shouldn't you be?), the Dividend Aristocrats are probably right up your alley. The list includes major American companies that have hiked their dividends for at least 25 years. Here are just a few of the 52 companies that made the list as of the end of 2008, along with their recent yields, five-year dividend growth rate, and ratings from our Motley Fool CAPS investor community:

Company

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Dividend Yield

5-Year Div. Growth Rate

AFLAC (NYSE:AFL)

****

3.8%

25%

Clorox (NYSE:CLX)

****

3.6%

10%

PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP)

*****

3.4%

19%

ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM)

****

2.4%

9%

3M (NYSE:MMM)

*****

3.5%

8%

Data: Motley Fool CAPS, Yahoo! Finance.

In my more naive days, I might have looked at this list and drooled, thinking that I'd found the list of the best dividend-payers out there. But I'd have been wrong for several reasons:

  • For one thing, the list does change over time. It's hard to get onto the list (it takes at least 25 years of dividend hikes, after all), but easy to be dropped from it. Since the 2009 list was published, companies such as General Electric have cut their dividends.
  • It's also worth remembering that there are many great companies out there with a slightly shorter track record of dividend boosts. Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) and Linear Technology, for example, are well-regarded companies with solid dividend histories -- just not 25 years.
  • Finally, note that the Aristocrats are culled only from the S&P 500, an index of 500 of America's biggest companies. So the rest of the world's blue chips are left out. Stick with just the Aristocrats and you'll miss out on considering the likes of Swiss health-care giant Alcon (NYSE:ACL) for your portfolio. Alcon has increased its dividend about tenfold in just the past six years.

So do keep dividends in mind when shopping for your portfolio -- but don't limit yourself to any one list of stocks.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of PepsiCo, 3M, and General Electric. AFLAC is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. 3M is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. PepsiCo is a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Alcon is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.