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3 Great Funds for Dividend Growth

We winnow a wide range of choices down to three winners: a Vanguard mutual fund, a T. Rowe fund and a Schwab ETF.

Investors looking for funds that emphasize dividend growth have an array to choose from. But you’ll have to shop carefully. Managers’ ideas of what constitutes an attractive dividend stock vary widely.

Among mutual funds, our top choice is Vanguard Dividend Growth (symbol VDIGX), a member of the Kiplinger 25. Manager Don Kilbride focuses on firms with low debt and high profitability that he believes will steadily raise their payouts. The formula has worked: Over the past 10 years through July 31, the fund gained an annualized 9.2%, compared with 7.7% for Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index. The largest holdings recently included United Parcel Service, retailer TJX Cos. and UnitedHealth Group. The annual expense ratio is 0.32%, low for an actively managed fund. Another solid choice is T. Rowe Price Dividend Growth (PRDGX), run by longtime manager Tom Huber. Like Kilbride, Huber stresses dividend growth, not current yield. The fund counts Pfizer, Visa and Pepsi among its biggest holdings. Dividend Growth, which charges 0.65% per year, returned 8.0% annualized over the past 10 years.

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Among exchange-traded funds, Schwab U.S. Dividend Equity (SCHD) looks like a solid long-term bet. A member of the Kiplinger ETF 20, the fund starts with U.S. companies that have paid dividends for at least 10 years in a row, then considers factors such as dividend growth rate and return on equity to reach the final cut. Its largest holdings include Pfizer, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. The ETF charges 0.07% annually.

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