Dividend-paying companies are the oasis in the desert of underperforming stocks. They offer solid payouts today, and not simply the promise of gains tomorrow (though they do offer that, too!). In fact, dividend investing is such an attractive alternative that super-investor Warren Buffett has made it a significant component of his portfolio.

To find outperforming dividend-paying companies, start by examining the stocks in the "Dividend Achievers Select Index," an elite group of companies that have raised their dividends annually over at least the past 10 years. The list, created by Mergent and now overseen by Indxis, screens eligible stocks for liquidity and investability. The index features about 140 stocks for 2010.

Need further convincing that dividend investing is profitable? According to a study by Ibbotson, reinvested dividends made up about 40% of total stock returns from 1926 to 2006. And as I've argued elsewhere, dividends are the most secure way to build a cash-flow powerhouse.

So let's take a look at the top dividend achievers by yield in the consumer services industry. For context, I've also included their five-year annualized dividend growth rate.

Company

Trailing Yield

5-Year Dividend Growth Rate

1. H&R Block (NYSE: HRB) 5.5% 6.4%
2. McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) 3.2% 31.3%
3. Matthews International (Nasdaq: MATW) 0.9% 9.2%

Source: Indxis.com and Capital IQ.

With cash and Treasuries yielding mere pennies on the dollar, your best bet to beat inflation lies in high-yielding stocks. Check out other high-growth Dividend Achievers here, here, and here.

Interested in reading more about McDonalds? Add it to My Watchlist, which will find all of our Foolish analysis on this stock.

Jim Royal, Ph.D., owns none of the companies mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.