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Investing in Dividend Stocks

Updated: Sept. 13, 2021, 3:26 p.m.

Dividend stocks can provide investors with predictable income as well as long-term growth potential. However, not all dividend stocks are great investments, and many investors aren't sure how to start their search.

With that in mind, here's a list of dividend-paying stocks you might want to consider. Below our list of stocks, we give you the knowledge you need to pick great dividend stocks yourself. Get a rundown of the most important things to look for when you're evaluating dividend companies.

Graphic of the benefits of dividend stocks

Image source: The Motley Fool

Five Dividend Aristocrats to buy

The Dividend Aristocrats Index, which is maintained by S&P Indices, is a great place to start. This is a collection of several companies that have increased their dividends for at least 25 consecutive years. That means that every company in the index successfully gave investors raises not just during the good times in the market, but also during more volatile downturns, such as the dot-com crash of the early 2000s, the financial crisis of 2008-2009, and the COVID-19 pandemic so far. They may be a safer investment than the average dividend-paying stock.

Here are five great companies from that index to start your search, listed in no particular order, followed by details about each company:

  1. Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG): Consumer products manufacturer Procter & Gamble has increased its dividend for an astonishing 64 consecutive years. It owns an impressive portfolio of consumer product brands, including Pampers, Downy, Tide, Charmin, Gillette, Head & Shoulders, and Crest, just to name a few. Not only do these brands give Procter & Gamble pricing power over rivals, but most of their products are items people need no matter what the economy is doing.
  2. Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO): The beverage giant has been a fantastic dividend stock for generations and has increased its dividend for 59 consecutive years. While sugary soft drinks may indeed be in the early stages of a slow, long-term decline, it's important to realize there's much more to Coca-Cola. For example, Coca-Cola is the parent company behind the Dasani and Smartwater bottled water brands, Minute Maid juices, Simply juices (like Simply Orange), Honest Tea, Powerade, Vitaminwater, and more.
  3. Realty Income (NYSE:O): This is a real estate investment trust, or REIT, that primarily invests in single-tenant retail properties. Most of the tenants operate recession-resistant businesses like drugstores, dollar stores, and convenience stores, and they all sign long-term leases with gradual rent increases built in. Realty Income is one of the newest members of the Dividend Aristocrats, having joined the index in January 2020 after reaching 25 consecutive years of dividend increases. Note that the company hasn't missed a monthly distribution to investors in more than 50 years.
  4. Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ): Like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson owns a portfolio of excellent brands that make products people need -- specifically healthcare items. In addition to its Band-Aid, Neutrogena, Tylenol, Zyrtec, Benadryl, and Johnson's brands (among others), Johnson & Johnson has massive and steadily profitable operations in pharmaceuticals and medical devices, the combination of which has allowed the company to increase its dividend for nearly 58 years in a row.
  5. Target (NYSE:TGT): You may be noticing a common theme here -- Target sells products people need. It has done an excellent job of growing its online and omnichannel sales (such as by offering curbside pickup), and while sales in some of its departments -- such as electronics -- may suffer in recessions, it is generally a well-insulated business in tough times, which is why it has given investors 49 years of consecutive dividend raises.
Did you know...

Dividend Aristocrats are often excellent companies, but you can find great income investments elsewhere, too.

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Four more of the best dividend stocks to buy

The Dividend Aristocrats aren't the only place to look. Many excellent companies simply haven't been paying dividends (or haven't been publicly traded) for long enough to be included in the index, although they can still make excellent long-term dividend investments.

Here is a list of dividend-paying stocks with characteristics such as excellent brands, loyal customer bases, and favorable demographic trends that are also worth putting on your radar. Below, see details about each company.

  1. Verizon (NYSE:VZ): Verizon enjoys utility-like income from its wireless communications and high-speed internet customers, and the fact that it has significantly less debt than others in the industry is appealing to many investors. Verizon is also more focused on its core business and should be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the transition to 5G mobile technology.
  2. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT): As one of the largest companies in the world, Microsoft has steadily increased its sales, and an especially attractive feature for dividend investors is its focus on recurring, or subscription-based, revenue sources. The company has a solid balance sheet with more cash than debt and a very low payout ratio that leaves tons of room to grow the dividend. Given its 19-year streak of dividend increases, we wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft joins the Dividend Aristocrats club soon.
  3. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL): Tech giant Apple has been paying dividends for only a few years now, which is understandable given the rapid growth it experienced in the early years of the iPhone and iPad. Companies tend to choose to reinvest profits into the business while in "growth mode." Even so, Apple has an incredibly loyal customer base, and since its devices are designed to work well with each other, the company has a nice tech ecosystem that should keep its revenue strong. And, Apple's rapidly growing subscription services business is providing an expanding source of recurring revenue.
  4. Welltower (NYSE:WELL): A real estate investment trust (REIT) focused on healthcare properties (particularly senior housing), Welltower should benefit from a long-tailed demographic trend as the older age groups of the American population gradually get much larger over the next few decades.

What to look for in dividend stocks

As we promised earlier in this article, we are going to give you the tools you need to find great dividend stocks yourself.

If you're new to dividend investing, it's a smart idea to familiarize yourself with what dividend stocks are and why they can make excellent investments.

Once you have a firm grasp on how dividends work, a few key concepts can help you find excellent dividend stocks for your portfolio.

  • Payout ratio: A stock's payout ratio is the amount of money it pays per share in dividends, divided by its earnings per share. In other words, this tells you what percentage of earnings a stock pays to shareholders. A reasonably low payout ratio (say 60% or less) is a good sign that the dividend is sustainable.
  • History of raises: It's a very good sign when a company raises its dividend year after year, especially when it can continue to do so during recessions and other tough economic times like the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Steady revenue and earnings growth: When looking for the best dividend stocks to own for the long term, prioritize stability in the companies you consider. Erratic revenue (up one year, down the next) and all-over-the-board earnings can be signs of trouble.
  • Durable competitive advantages: This is perhaps the most important feature to look for. A durable competitive advantage can come in several forms, such as a proprietary technology, high barriers to entry, high customer switching costs, or a powerful brand name, just to name a few.
  • High yield: This is last on the list for a reason. A high yield is obviously preferable to a lower one, but only if the other four criteria are met. A high dividend is only as strong as the business that supports it, so compare dividend yields after you make sure the business is healthy and the payout is stable.

Dividend stocks are long-term investments

Of course, even the most rock-solid dividend stocks can experience significant volatility over short periods. There are simply too many market forces that can move them up or down over days or weeks, many of which have nothing to do with the underlying business itself.

So while the companies listed above should make great long-term dividend investments, don't worry too much about day-to-day price movements. Instead focus on finding companies with excellent businesses, stable income streams, and (preferably) strong dividend track records, and the long term will take care of itself.

How do dividends work?

A dividend happens when a company sends money (or, very rarely, stock) to its shareholders. When a company gets to the point that it consistently earns more than management can effectively reinvest in the business, establishing a dividend policy and sending those excess profits back to investors is a smart move. 

What are Dividend Aristocrats?

A Dividend Aristocrat is a company in the S&P 500 that has paid and increased its base dividend every year for at least 25 consecutive years.

What is dividend yield?

Dividend yield is a stock's annual dividend payments to shareholders expressed as a percentage of the stock's current price. This number tells you what you can expect in future income from a stock, based on the price you could buy it for today, assuming the dividend remains unchanged.

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