investing

How to Pick the Best S&P 500 Dividend Stocks

The index is home to multiple companies with attractive yields.

Looking for decent income while you wait (and wait) for the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates? Consider dividend-paying stocks. You don’t have to wander far to find attractive dividend payers. Just look at Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. Of its 500 member companies, 84% pay dividends, up from 75% a decade ago. On top of that, many of the index’s constituents are rewarding shareholders by boosting their payouts.

Broadly speaking, you can divide dividend stocks into two groups. The first group consists of high-yielding stocks. The S&P 500 itself yields about 2%, but you can find a number of solid S&P 500 members that yield at least double that; in other words, stocks that yield 4% and up.

When looking at high-yielding stocks, the key is identifying companies that have the financial resources to keep paying those generous dividends. Among well-known names that fit the bill and that we consider attractive are tobacco giant Altria Group (MO), General Motors (GM) and Verizon Communications (VZ).

The second group consists of companies that are rapidly increasing their dividends. Their stocks typically yield less than the S&P 500, but these companies have better opportunities for capital appreciation. To find great dividend boosters, we looked for companies that had raised their payouts by at least 10% annualized over the past five years. Beyond that, we wanted firms with solid growth prospects, figuring that those companies were most likely to boost their disbursements.

The list of some of our favorite dividend-growth stocks is both eclectic and surprising. Among our choices are diesel engine maker Cummins (CMI); Principal Financial Group (PFG), a financial-services company with a growing asset-management business; and consulting and technology-services firm Accenture (ACN), which through a quirk of history is in the S&P 500 even though the company today is headquartered in Ireland.

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