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Throughout history there have always been great companies that stand head-and-shoulders above their peers and the competition. They are loved by their shareholders, hated by the competition and known by all. Just as all great companies have have something in common, great dividend companies also have something in common.

All great dividend companies have at least one characteristic in common – they consistently raise their dividends each year. Below are several companies stepping up with higher cash dividends:

SouthWest Water (SWWC) provides a range of services, including water production, treatment and distribution; wastewater collection and treatment; and utility billing and collection. October 23rd the company doubled its dividend to $0.05/share. The dividend is payable on November 20, 2009, to stockholders of record on November 4, 2009. The yield based on the new payout is 3.51%.

Torchmark (NYSE:TMK) is a financial services company that derives most of its earnings from life and health insurance operations. October 23rd the company raised its quarterly dividend to $0.15/share The dividend will be paid on February 1, 2010. The yield based on the new payout is 1.40%.

Inergy (NRGY) markets, sells and distributes propane to retail and wholesale customers. October 26th the company increased its quarterly cash distribution to $0.675/unit. The distribution will be paid on November 13, 2009, to unitholders of record as of November 6, 2009. The ex-dividend date is November 4, 2009. This represents the 32nd consecutive quarterly increase. The yield based on the new payout is 8.81%.

Bank of Marin Bancorp (NASDAQ:BMRC) offers banking products and services via eight branches in Marin County, three in Sonoma County & a loan production office in San Francisco. October 26th the company raised its quarterly cash dividend of $0.15/share. The cash dividend is payable on November 13, 2009 to shareholders of record at the close of business on November 2, 2009. The yield based on the new payout is 1.79%.

Inergy Holdings, L.P. (NRGP) assets include incentive distribution rights in Inergy, LP, which operates a retail and wholesale propane supply, marketing and distribution business. October 26th the company boosted its distribution 9% to $0.85/unit. The distribution will be paid on November 13, 2009, to unitholders of record as of November 6, 2009. The yield based on the new payout is 7.00%.

American Financial Group (NYSE:AFG) provides specialty and multi-line property and casualty insurance, and sells tax-deferred annuities. October 26th the company increased its quarterly dividend 6% to $0.1375/share. The yield based on the new payout is 2.08%.

Questar (NYSE:STR) is engaged in gas and oil exploration, energy marketing, gas gathering, transportation and storage, and retail gas distribution. October 27th the company increased its quarterly dividend to $0.13/share. The dividend is payable Dec. 14, 2009, to shareholders of record on Nov. 20, 2009. The yield based on the new payout is 1.30%.

Brandywine Realty (NYSE:BDN) is a real estate investment trust owns, manages or has ownership interests in office and industrial properties aggregating some 38 million square feet. October 28th the company bumped its quarterly $0.15/share. The yield based on the new payout is 6.10%.

Strayer Education (NASDAQ:STRA) offers academic programs via traditional classroom and online courses. October 29th the company boosted its annual dividend 67% to $3.00. The yield based on the new payout is 1.43%.

APCapital (ACAP) provides medical professional liability insurance in the U.S. October 29th the company increased its quarterly dividend 9% to $0.09/share. The dividend is payable on December 31, 2009 to shareholders of record on December 11, 2009. The yield based on the new payout is 1.22%.

It is impossible to say with perfect assurance what company will become the next great dividend stock. However, I can say with a high degree of confidence that the next great one raised its dividend this year. For a list of stocks with a long string of consecutive dividend increases, see this list.

Disclosure: No position in the aforementioned stocks. See a list of all my income holdings here.

Source: 10 Stocks Ramping Up Their Dividends