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It seems like the investing-style-du-jour involves dividend-paying stocks, with all the chatter on the boards and blogs lately. In a lemming-like flight to safety, many investors have piled into dividend-paying stocks, perceiving that they offer income safety, as well as the opportunity for growth, and this has driven the price of some of those stocks up, and the yield down.

I have examined dozens of recent articles about dividend-paying stocks, and run screens on close to a hundred companies, in an effort to winnow the list down to just the few most stable, most dependable, best opportunity stocks I feel should be the foundation for any dividend portfolio.

All of these stocks have an extensive history of paying and raising dividends in a consistent manner. They all sport a current yield of greater than 2.5%, a total return over the last 5 years of over 20%, and a 5-year average annual dividend growth of over 7% (far exceeding the rate of inflation).

Most of these stocks are also, due to the recent favor the sector has been enjoying, at or near their 52-week highs. It might be prudent to wait for a bit of a pullback, perhaps in the 5% to 10% range, before entering any new positions. On the other hand, these stocks are presumably going to be in your portfolio for the long run, so do not be so eager to save a few bucks on entry that you miss the boat entirely.

1. McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) is currently trading at approximately $89 per share and offers a yield of 3.1%. It has a 35-year history of consistently paying and raising dividends, and its 5-year average annual dividend growth rate is 29.51%. The stock is currently trading at about a 10% discount to its 52-week high, which is an ideal place to enter, before it resumes its upward trajectory.

2. Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) is currently trading at $67 and offers a yield of 3.6%. It has a 49-year history of consistently paying and raising dividends, and a 5-year annual dividend growth rate of 8.39%. The stock is currently trading at a 3% discount to its 52-week high.

3. Proctor & Gamble (NYSE:PG) is trading at $67 and offers a yield of 3.4%. It has a 58-year history of paying and raising dividends, and is a crowd favorite due to its generous dividend reinvestment program. Its 5-year average annual dividend growth rate is 10.51%, and it is currently trading at its 52-week high.

4. Chevron (NYSE:CVX) is trading at $112 and offers a 3.2% yield. The company has a 19-year history of paying and raising dividends, and its 5-year average annual dividend growth rate is 9.27%. It is trading at its 52-week high.

5. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners (NYSE:KMP) is a Master Limited Partnership, with slightly different tax rules than an ordinary dividend-paying stock. It is trading at $83 and yields 6.0%, with a 15-year history of paying and raising dividends consistently. Its 5-year annual dividend growth rate is 7.5%, and the company is currently trading at a 9% discount to its 52-week high, making it a great entry point.

6. PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP) is trading at $73 and yields 2.9%. It has a 40-year history of paying and raising dividends, and a 5-year average annual growth rate of 10.46%. It is currently trading at its 52-week high.

7. Automatic Data Processing (NASDAQ:ADP) is trading at $58 and yields 2.7%. It has a 36-year history of paying and raising its dividend, and its 5-year annual average growth rate is 12.31%. It is currently trading at its 52-week high.

8. AFLAC Inc (NYSE:AFL) is trading at $46 and yields 2.9%. It has a 29-year history of paying and raising dividends, and its 5-year average annual growth rate is 12.02%. It is trading at an 8% discount to its 52-week high.

There are hundreds of stocks that pay dividends, and some pay far more than the ones listed here. But yield should be only one of the factors that you consider when picking dividend stocks.

Some stocks that I considered, that nearly made my list, include Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI), and Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO).

But I believe that these eight companies represent the absolute best of the best, the most consistent, most stable dividend-paying stocks in the entire stock universe. They will be steady gainers, and will reward you for years to come.

Source: 8 Foundation Stocks For Your Dividend Portfolio