In the past six years, I lost $918 on my shares of Home Depot -- except that I didn't. The dividends I earned over those six years gave my falling shares a much softer landing.

I bought 150 shares of Home Depot for roughly $33.35 apiece in the summer of 2004. As of this writing, I'm down $918, or 18% -- no surprise, given the housing market's collapse. But over the years, each of my shares paid me $4.42 apiece, reducing my total loss to just $255 -- a mere 5% stumble. Dividends cushioned my shares' fall, protecting me from even more painful losses.

Find your own safety net
Thanks to available screening tools, it's relatively easy to find compelling dividend candidates for your portfolio. Below, I've rounded up a few of top-rated companies with yields above 3% from our Motley Fool CAPS investing community. Pay particular attention to these stocks' dividend growth rates, which can supercharge your long-term returns.

Company

Dividend Yield

5-Year Avg. Annual Div. Growth Rate

Waste Management (NYSE: WM)

3.8%

8.9%

Kimberly Clark (NYSE: KMB)

4.1%

7.8%

Exelon (NYSE: EXC)

5.1%

7%

Abbott Labs (NYSE: ABT)

3.5%

8.7%

Marathon Oil (NYSE: MRO)

3.1%

11.1%

Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY)

4.9%

4.5%

Source: Motley Fool CAPS.

Each of these companies has its appeal as a long-term investment. Waste Management occupies the resilient and growing industry of waste collection and recycling. Kimberly-Clark offers inexpensive and perennial staples to the masses, such as Kleenex, Kotex, and Huggies. Abbott Labs and Bristol-Myers Squibb make medications that people consume repeatedly, even as they develop new drugs through their pipelines. Exelon specializes in nuclear energy, which is gaining public favor following the Gulf of Mexico oil spin. And as our memories of that disaster fade, Marathon Oil's operational and geographic diversification should help the company recover.

With strong and growing payouts, candidates like these might help your portfolio excel in good times, and fall less sharply -- and bounce back more quickly -- when the going gets rough.

Related Foolishness:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Home Depot. Exelon, Home Depot, and Waste Management are Motley Fool Inside Value choices. Kimberly Clark and Waste Management are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended writing puts on Exelon. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.