Like chocolate and peanut butter, dividend stocks and IRAs are two great tastes that taste great together. The best dividend stocks are gifts that keep on giving, with great price appreciation and a steady stream of income to reinvest, compounding your gains.

IRAs, of course, are one of the greatest wealth-building tools available, thanks to their flexibility and immense tax advantages. They're especially good places for dividend stocks. Why? Simple: In an IRA, those dividend streams don't generate the annual tax consequences that they would in a regular account.

That doesn't just simplify your life at tax time, it leaves even more money in the market to grow and compound -- right up until you retire. And dividend stocks continue to offer special advantages after you retire as well.

But to take best advantage of this great combination, you've got to have the right dividend stocks. Fortunately, finding them isn't hard.

Great stocks to buy right now -- and any time
What should we look for when seeking dividend stocks that can help us build a prosperous future?  Here's what I like to see:

  • A great company in a stable (or growing) business. A great dividend isn't worth much if the company can't keep paying it, after all. Cyclical changes can take today's high-yield stock (or high-yield industry) and leave it for dead. We want to avoid that.
  • A company that can afford its dividend. A company like Frontier Communications (NYSE: FTR) might look like a hot buy with its flashy 8.7% dividend, but look further: Frontier actually cut its dividend last year, and its growth prospects aren't strong. 8.7% sure sounds tempting, but we want payouts we can collect for years to come. With so many companies raising their dividend payments, we don't have to settle for less.
  • A history of dividend increases. In fact, some of the best stocks in this category have decades-long histories of annual dividend increases. That's good for a reason beyond the obvious: A company that increases its dividend year after year will be perennially popular with investors -- and that means its stock price should keep going up. We won't always find this, but we like it when we do.

Where do we find stocks like these?

These 3 places turn up great dividends
Ever heard of "dividend aristocrat"? It sounds like a silly throwaway headline, but it's actually a term worth knowing. Standard & Poor's uses it this way: "The 50 highest dividend yielding S&P Composite 1500 constituents which have followed a managed dividends policy of consistently increasing dividends every year for at least 25 years."

The list includes some of the bluest blue chips, as well as some lesser-known companies with surprisingly high yields. But don't overlook the big names just because they're obvious: McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), which pays 3%, and PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP), currently yielding 2.9%, are both well-run companies with huge global brands. And in both cases, the yield isn't the whole story: Each should see nice growth over the next decade. Either of those would be solid candidates for the more conservative corner of our long-term portfolio.

But what if we want a really big yield? One place to look is at real estate investment trusts -- or REITs -- which are required to distribute at least 90% of their taxable income to investors. That makes for huge payouts from the very best: Companies like Annaly Capital Mangement (NYSE: NLY) and Chimera Investment (NYSE: CIM) both have dividend yields around 14%. Both of these well-run companies invest in mortgages -- and while each might take a hit as yields rise, even a 50% cut in their dividends would still leave us sitting pretty. Annaly in particular has a reputation for outsized performance in bad times, making it an especially intriguing buffer to have in your portfolio.

Another source of eye-popping (but stable) dividends comes from master limited partnerships. These are typically companies that develop and own energy infrastructure, and benefit from a tax-law quirk that allows them to be set up as partnerships. That lowers their cost of capital -- but like REITs, they're required to pay out most of their taxable income to investors. Two of the big names here are Energy Transfer Partners (NYSE: ETP), yielding 7.5%, and Enterprise Products Partners (NYSE: EPD), paying 5.9%.

What's good here? Plenty. Each of these partnerships has solid management, stable payouts, and maybe best of all, heavy exposure to natural gas and gas infrastructure. While nearly all commodities have been on huge bull runs over the last couple of years, natural gas is one place where there's still value to be had. In fact, Fool Dan Dzombak recently pointed out that natural gas is trading below many producers' cost of production -- a great opportunity for investors seeking value. And natural gas (and gas infrastructure) could be poised to soar if certain green-minded legislators have their way.

Of course, the low price of natural gas doesn't mean these partnerships are value-priced -- they aren't, though they're not unreasonably expensive -- but it does mean that there's plenty of potential upside to these already-solid businesses.

Grab your share of these cash flows now
There's no question that dividend investing is hot right now. But as we've just seen, there are still rock-solid high-yielding opportunities to be had. Adding a few to your retirement portfolio today is a great way to put the compound growth of reinvested dividends to work for your future now.

So take action -- spend some time looking at the six stocks I've mentioned above. If you'd like even more ideas, help yourself to a free report from the Fool's expert analysts called "13 High-Yielding Stocks to Buy Today." Hundreds of thousands of investors have already requested access to this report, and you can join them right now at absolutely no cost. To get instant access to the names of these 13 fat dividend payers, simply click here -- it's completely free.

Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Enterprise Products Partners. You can follow his investment-related musings on Twitter at @jrosevear. The Fool owns shares of Annaly Capital Management and PepsiCo. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended PepsiCo, Enterprise Products Partners, and McDonald's, as well as creating a diagonal call position in PepsiCo. You can try any (or all!) of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy pays the biggest dividends in the business.