21 best retirement stocks for an income-rich 2021

The ideal retirement stocks will help investors generate a sizable and reliable income stream. These 21 dividend payers make the grade.

  • By Brian Bollinger,
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Investors in retirement must figure out how to generate enough income without a job while also making sure they don't outlive their income stream. Naturally, then, the best retirement stocks to buy in 2021 (or any other year) to accomplish those objectives are ones that pay dividends.

Regular dividends lessen an investor's dependence on the market's fickle price swings because it reduces or eliminates the need to sell shares to generate income. Regardless of whether the market rises or falls in 2021, a portfolio of high-quality companies can provide you with predictable, growing dividend income.

And in today's low-interest-rate environment, dividend stocks can generate much higher income than many fixed-income instruments. Better still, many dividend-paying stocks grow their payouts, which preserves those dividends' purchasing power. And dividend stocks, like other equities, also provide meaningful long-term price appreciation potential.

Research firm Simply Safe Dividends published an in-depth guide about living on dividends in retirement here. However, a key component to this strategy is finding the best retirement stocks that can deliver safe dividends and grow in value over time.

To that end, here are the 21 best retirement stocks to buy in 2021. The 21 stocks on this list appear to have safe dividends based on their ability to generate cash, yield between 3% and 7%, and have solid potential to continue growing their payouts in the long term.

Data is as of Dec. 30. Dividend yields are calculated by annualizing the most recent quarterly payout and dividing by the share price. Companies are listed by yield.


Market value: $234.0 billion

Dividend yield: 3.0%

Dividend growth streak: 58 years

Sector: Consumer staples

Coca-Cola (KO) dominates the global market for nonalcoholic beverages with nearly two dozen billion-dollar brands. While close to 70% of Coke's unit sales are still from sodas, the firm has been diversifying into energy drinks, juices, coffee, water and dairy beverages.

Morningstar analyst Nicholas Johnson also estimates that Coke generates over 40% of its sales from developing or emerging markets with growing middle classes and low per-capita soda consumption. In other words, Coke's core business continues to have a long runway as branded beverages expand their reach worldwide.

Coca-Cola's strong brands, extensive distribution network, and leading global scale have helped the firm increase its dividend each year since 1962. While soda consumption in developed markets might decline in the years ahead, these advantages, plus Coke's exposure to faster-growing emerging markets, seem likely to keep the company's earnings growing for the foreseeable future, which should help KO extend its current 58-year dividend growth streak.

That payout reliability is a hallmark of the best retirement stocks, and what puts Coca-Cola among 2021's best consumer staples stocks.

Cisco Systems

Market value: $188.0 billion

Dividend yield: 3.2%

Dividend growth streak: 9 years

Sector: Information Technology

Cisco Systems (CSCO) isn't your typical retirement stock. It's in the technology sector, for one. And it only began paying dividends in 2011, though the tech behemoth has raised its payout each year since.

Known for its switches and routers, which connect devices and computer networks, Cisco's core offerings have historically been necessary investments for almost every business as well as America's communications infrastructure.

Over the years, Cisco's massive size helped it develop or acquire an entire suite of network equipment and services solutions, positioning the firm favorably to win over customers who want to deal with fewer vendors and achieve a lower total cost of ownership. This combination of a large installed base and mission-critical solutions has made Cisco a cash cow.

That said, competition remains intense and the rise of the public cloud has potential to shrink companies' data centers and reduce network complexity. Management is responding by focusing the company on more recurring software and service revenue in areas such as cybersecurity to keep Cisco's cash flow stream resilient.

Software and services accounted for over half of revenue in fiscal 2020. Coupled with Cisco's investment-grade balance sheet and broad base of customers, Simply Safe Dividends expects the firm to stay relevant and continue paying a safe dividend.

Genuine Parts

Market value: $14.4 billion

Dividend yield: 3.2%

Dividend growth streak: 64 years

Sector: Consumer discretionary

Genuine Parts (GPC) has been in business since 1928 and is one of the largest distributors of replacement parts across the automotive and industrial markets.

This has been a remarkably stable business over the years, as demonstrated by Genuine Parts' track record of growing its sales and profits in 87 and 75 years of its 92-year history, respectively. That's a long track record of success that even many of the best retirement stocks on this list can't match.

With the largest global auto parts network, Genuine Parts can offer mechanics and auto shops a wider assortment of inventory and faster distribution times than most of its smaller rivals.

Coupled with its longstanding customer relationships and the essential need of repair services as vehicles age, Genuine Parts enjoys a steady stream of cash flow that has helped the dividend king grow its dividend for 64 consecutive years.

This streak seems likely to continue thanks to the slow pace of change in Genuine Parts' markets and the company's advantages across important areas such as inventory breadth, fast delivery times, and long-term customer relationships.


Market value: $45.3 billion

Dividend yield: 3.2%

Dividend growth streak: 48 years

Sector: Consumer staples

Founded in 1872, Kimberly-Clark (KMB) owns a portfolio of tissue and hygiene products under iconic brands such as Huggies, Cottonelle, Kleenex and Scott.

A quarter of the world's population uses one of Kimberly-Clark's products each day, helping the firm spend more on marketing, achieve greater cost efficiencies, and distribute its products to a much broader base of retail customers than its smaller rivals.

Coupled with the recession-resistant nature of diaper, wipes, paper towels, and toilet paper, KMB generates predictable results and strong cash flow in almost any economic environment.

This has helped the Dividend Aristocrat pay a reliable dividend for 86 years while increasing its dividend for nearly half a century.

Management expects the dividend to continue rising in the years ahead, keeping pace with the firm's earnings per share, which are targeted to grow at a mid-single-digit pace.

While Kimberly-Clark doesn't offer the fastest growth potential, KMB remains one of the most appealing retirement stocks for a conservative portfolio.

Cullen/Frost Bankers

Market value: $5.5 billion

Dividend yield: 3.3%

Dividend growth streak: 27 years

Sector: Financials

Founded in 1868, Cullen/Frost Bankers (CFR) provides a range of banking, investment and insurance products and services with a focus on serving commercial customers throughout Texas.

Despite the cyclical nature of financial stocks and Cullen/Frost's sensitivity to interest rates (most of its loans have floating rates), the company has remained profitable with no quarterly or annual loss since the 2007-09 Great Recession.

Eric Compton, a senior equity analyst at Morningstar, attributes Cullen/Frost's success to the relationship-based approach it takes to banking and the firm's conservative underwriting.

Mr. Compton wrote that "tight relationships provide the bank with insight into the Texas environment," and Cullen/Frost has one of the highest proportions of non-interest-bearing deposits, giving it a funding advantage.

Combined with the firm's conservative capital structure and risk management practices, CFR has delivered higher dividends for 27 straight years. The volatility of bank stocks doesn't make them appropriate for all conservative income investors, but Cullen/Frost is one of the best retirement stocks in the industry.

Crown Castle International

Market value: $67.5 billion

Dividend yield: 3.4%

Dividend growth streak: 6 years

Sector: Real estate

Crown Castle International (CCI) is the nation's largest provider of shared communications infrastructure. The real estate investment trust (REIT) owns a portfolio of more than 40,000 cell towers, about 70,000 small cell nodes and approximately 80,000 route miles of fiber.

Crown Castle leases its assets to wireless service providers such as T-Mobile US (TMUS) and AT&T (T). These companies place their equipment on CCI's infrastructure so they can beam their signals to mobile devices used by consumers and businesses.

Given the essential nature of wireless services, this is a predictable and durable business. Crown Castle's revenue is mostly recurring as well, supported by long-term lease contracts with embedded growth tied to rent escalators.

Rising consumer demand for data and growth in connected devices continues driving carriers' need to invest more in their networks. As these long-term trends play out, Crown Castle appears well positioned to grow its cash flow as its infrastructure assets achieve even strong utilization rates.

Management expects the business to achieve 7% to 8% annual dividend growth given these demand tailwinds, which is attractive in a retirement stock. Crown Castle's mix of income and growth can make it an appealing option compared to bonds, though investors should review the tradeoffs between REITs and bonds in retirement as discussed by Simply Safe Dividends.

Dominion Energy

Market value: $60.4 billion

Dividend yield: 3.4%

Dividend growth streak: 0 years

Sector: Utilities

Dominion Energy's (D) inclusion in a list featuring the best retirement stocks for 2021 might take some investors by surprising following the regulated utility's decision to cut its dividend last year. But a closer look at management's decision reveals why Dominion remains a compelling idea for income and growth.

Dominion in July 2020 decided to sell its natural gas transmission and storage business to Berkshire Hathaway. This division generated nearly 25% of Dominion's operating earnings, so losing this income stream was the primary driver behind the firm's 33% dividend cut.

This transaction moves Dominion closer to a pure-play regulated utility, with upwards of 90% of its operating earnings from state-regulated gas and electric utilities compared to 70% previously. This mix will help the firm continue generating predictable earnings.

After shedding its slower growing gas business, Dominion now expects to deliver 6.5% annual earnings growth beginning in 2022, up from its prior long-term growth guidance of 5%. And the dividend is expected to begin growing again, too, at a rate of 6% starting in 2022 – much faster than the prior 2.5% target, albeit off of a lower starting base.

Finally, Dominion has an "industry-leading clean energy profile" as its utilities invest across wind, solar, and battery storage technologies. Regulators, customers, and investors seem likely to value these qualities more in the years ahead.

Overall, Simply Safe Dividends believes Dominion Energy is a quality idea for safe, growing income in 2021 and beyond.

Flowers Foods

Market value: 4.8 billion

Dividend yield: 3.5%

Dividend growth streak: 18 years

Sector: Consumer staples

Founded in 1919, Flowers Foods (FLO) has served people's basic need to eat for more than a century. The baked goods company sells a variety of breads, buns, snack cakes and rolls under brands such as Nature's Own, Dave's Killer Bread, Tastykake, Wonder Bread and Canyon Bakehouse.

While bread is a very mature product category, Flowers owns the No. 1 loaf, organic and gluten-free bread brands. When times get tough, consumers continue buying these products and are keener to stick with tried-and-true brands.

This helped Flowers grow revenue by 6.8% during the first quarter of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through America. The company's strong cash flow also gave management confidence to increase the dividend by 5.3% in May 2020 while many other firms were cutting or eliminating their payouts.

Thanks to the resiliency of Flowers' products, management has raised the dividend each year since the company began making payouts in 2002. That trend seems likely to continue given the firm's excellent cash flow generation, investment-grade credit rating and steady payout ratio near 70%.

Overall, FLO shares are among the best retirement stocks for 2021, and a solid candidate for investors who want to prep their retirement portfolios for a recession as discussed by Simply Safe Dividends.

General Mills

Market value: $35.8 billion

Dividend yield: 3.5%

Dividend growth streak: 1 year

Sector: Consumer staples

With roots tracing back to the 19th century, General Mills (GIS) and its predecessors have been involved in many different industries over the years, including restaurants, toys and apparel, but the company in 1995 shifted its focus completely to consumer foods.

Throughout decades of change, the firm's dividend has remained a constant; GIS has paid dividends without interruption since 1898.

Today, General Mills sells a variety of packaged meals, cereal, snacks, baking products, pet food and other products. Some of its biggest brands include Cheerios, Betty Crocker, Blue Buffalo and Nature Valley.

General Mills' well-known brands and major distribution network, coupled with the steady nature of food consumption, has helped the company generate strong cash flow in good times and bad.

With business booming during the pandemic thanks to a surge in at-home food demand, GIS enjoyed double-digit earnings growth in fiscal 2020. This gave management confidence to return the dividend to growth, announcing a 4% increase after having kept the dividend frozen since acquiring Blue Buffalo in 2018.

While pandemic-related tailwinds won't last forever, Simply Safe Dividends expects General Mills to remain a solid bet for income and capital preservation in the years ahead.

MSC Industrial

Market value: $4.7 billion

Dividend yield: 3.5%

Dividend growth streak: 17 years

Sector: Industrials

You don't often see industrials among the best retirement stocks, but then, you rarely see industrials with such extensive and excellent track records.

With more than 75 years of experience, MSC Industrial Direct (MSM) is a national distributor of metalworking and maintenance, repair and operations products for manufacturers throughout North America. The firm's products include cutting tools, fasteners, measuring instruments, janitorial supplies and power tools.

Almost every manufacturing business has an ongoing need for the supplies and inventory management services MSC distributes. As one of the larger distributors in this fragmented industry, MSC can beat local and regional distributors with its breadth of inventory, faster delivery times and more competitive costs.

This isn't an exciting business. Industrial stocks rarely are. But this company produces dependable cash flow which has enabled MSC to increase its dividend every year since it began making payouts in 2003. The company has paid out large special dividends in recent years, too.

With a healthy balance sheet, reasonable payout ratio, and solid cash flow generation continuing, MSC's dividend remains a good bet going forward for retirement portfolios.

Public Storage

Market value: $40.0 billion

Dividend yield: 3.5%

Dividend growth streak: 0 years

Sector: Real estate

Although Public Storage (PSA) has held its payout flat since 2017, the self-storage REIT has paid dividends without interruption since 1981. This track record, coupled with the storage industry's solid cash flow profile, make Public Storage one of the best retirement stocks.

Morningstar equity analyst Yousuf Hafuda notes that existing self-storage properties "can be run very profitably, achieving net operating margins of over 70%" thanks to their low capital intensity and minimal staff needs.

While the industry has relatively few barriers to entry, not many people want to go through the painful process of switching storage facilities. This has historically helped Public Storage push through rent increases on customers to maintain its high level of profitability.

Overall, the storage industry's slow pace of change and limited capital needs should ensure that PSA remains a cash cow with a safe dividend.

Brookfield Infrastructure Partners LP

Market value: $14.7 billion

Distribution yield: 3.9%*

Dividend growth streak: 12 years

Sector: Utilities

Brookfield Infrastructure Partners LP (BIP), a master limited partnership (MLP), is listed as a utility stock but has a unique profile compared to the sector's traditional energy providers. BIP owns dozens of infrastructure assets worldwide, including railroads, telecom towers, ports, pipelines, electricity transmission lines and data centers.

But like other utilities, these assets solve essential problems, are hard to replicate and generate annuity-like cash flows. In fact, 95% of Brookfield Infrastructure Partners' cash flow is contracted or supported by regulatory frameworks.

This stability, coupled with the partnership's investment-grade credit rating and global investment opportunities, has enabled Brookfield to raise its distribution each year since 2008.

Going forward, management expects to continue increasing the distribution by 5% to 9% per year as the worldwide economy expands and Brookfield executes on its large backlog of projects.

It's also worth noting the partnership structures its activities to avoid generating unrelated business taxable income. Therefore, unlike most limited partnerships that can have more complicated taxes, BIP's units are suitable for owning in retirement accounts.

However, for investors who prefer to avoid partnership taxes, the firm recently split its shares to launch Brookfield Infrastructure Corporation (BIPC). BIPC shares are structured to provide an economic return equivalent to BIP units through a traditional corporate structure and have the same distribution as BIP units.

Regardless of which entity investors choose, as a Canadian company, Brookfield will withhold 15% of its distribution to U.S. investors. But because of a tax treaty with Canada, U.S. investors can deduct this amount dollar-for-dollar as part of the foreign withholding tax credit as discussed in Simply Safe Dividends' guide.

*Distribution yields are calculated by annualizing the most recent distribution and dividing by the share price. Distributions are similar to dividends but are treated as tax-deferred returns of capital and require different paperwork come tax time.

Consolidated Edison

Market value: $23.8 billion

Dividend yield: 4.3%

Dividend growth streak: 46 years

Sector: Utilities

Founded in 1823, Consolidated Edison (ED) serves as a regulated electric and gas utility to the New York metro areas, providing energy for 10 million people.

Given Consolidated Edison's monopoly-like status in its markets, regulators determine the projects the company can invest in and how much profit it can make to ensure consumers have access to reliable utility services at fair prices.

In exchange, ED enjoys a very predictable and recession-resistant stream of earnings. This has helped the company raise its dividend for 46 consecutive years, albeit at a relatively slow pace with average increases of about 2% to 3% annually over the last two decades.

Slow but steady growth is expected to continue. Argus analyst Angus Kelleher-Ferguson estimates Consolidated Edison's long-term earnings growth rate will be 2% and believes the dividend appears secure.

Investors looking for a stock with low volatility, predictable dividends and a healthy yield may give Consolidated Edison a look for their retirement portfolios.

Duke Energy

Market value: $66.6 billion

Dividend yield: 4.3%

Dividend growth streak: 14 years

Sector: Utilities

Retirement portfolios often favor the utilities sector for its defensive qualities and generous dividends. Not surprisingly, many utilities are featured in the best recession-resistant stocks highlighted by Simply Safe Dividends.

Duke Energy (DUK) is one of them. Founded in the early 1900s, Duke is the largest regulated utility in North America by total assets with operations spanning seven states across the Southeast and Midwest U.S.

Duke has paid dividends for 94 straight years in part due to the favorable traits of the regions it operates in.

Morningstar senior equity analyst Andrew Bischof writes that Duke has "a constructive working relationship with its regulators, the most critical component of a regulated utility's moat."

Mr. Bischof says the "better-than-average economic fundamentals" in Duke's key regions have helped make this possible, providing a solid foundation for the firm's rate negotiations.

Thanks to these strengths, DUK expects to deliver 4% to 6% long-term earnings growth and remains committed to extending its 14-year dividend growth streak as well. Simply put, Duke should remain one of the best retirement stocks for income investors.

Old Republic International

Market value: $5.9 billion

Dividend yield: 4.3%

Dividend growth streak: 39 years

Sector: Financials

Founded nearly a century ago, Old Republic International (ORI) has paid uninterrupted dividends since 1942 and raised its payout for 39 consecutive years.

The commercial lines underwriter generates about 60% of its operating income from general insurance policies focused in areas such as workers compensation, trucking and home warranty. Most of the remaining business is tied to title insurance offered to real estate buyers.

Insurance services are typically mandated in the industries served by Old Republic, but this is still a very competitive space where competition is based first on price. Risk management is key to achieving long-term success, and ORI has excelled here.

For example, the firm's general insurance business has recorded combined ratios, which measure losses and expenses as a percentage of premium revenue, below the industry average in 41 of the last 50 years.

Meanwhile, Old Republic's title operations provide the business with nice diversification. The full premium is collected upfront and losses tend to be minimal, further reducing underwriting volatility.

Overall, Old Republic's conservative management style and disciplined underwriting process seem likely to keep the dividend safe and growing for the foreseeable future. Furthering that case is the fact that, for the past three years, ORI has issued $1-per-share special dividends. Accounting for those, investors are enjoying something closer to a 9.4% yield on Old Republic's shares.


Market value: $240.6 billion

Dividend yield: 4.3%

Dividend growth streak: 14 years

Sector: Communications

Verizon (VZ) and its predecessors have paid dividends without interruption for more than 30 years. Needless to say, America's largest wireless service provider enjoys a very stable business that throws off predictable cash flow each year regardless of how the economy is faring.

Since 2000, Verizon has invested more than $145 billion to meet growing demand for wireless data and video while also prepping its network for 5G technology. These investments have kept its network at the top of RootMetrics' rankings for reliability, data and call performance for 13 consecutive years.

Verizon's strong network performance has earned it a large and loyal subscriber base, providing a reliable stream of recurring cash flow which the company uses to pay dividends and reinvest back into its network.

Coupled with Verizon's investment-grade credit rating and conservative payout ratio near 50%, VZ continues to look like one of the best retirement stocks for 2021 and beyond.

Realty Income

Market value: $21.5 billion

Dividend yield: 4.6%

Dividend growth streak: 25 years

Sector: Real estate

Founded in 1969, Realty Income (O) has paid monthly dividends without interruption for more than half a century. Simply Safe Dividends believes the retail REIT remains one of the best monthly dividend stocks for conservative investors in 2021, despite the pandemic's impact across the industry.

Realty owns more than 6,500 properties which it leases to around 600 tenants who operate across 51 industries. By focusing on quality locations and financially healthy tenants, Realty's occupancy level has never fallen below 96%.

This helped the REIT's rent collection bounce back quickly during the depths of the pandemic in mid-2020. By the third quarter of 2020, Realty had received over 93% of rent due, more than covering its dividend with cash flow.

Coupled with the company's investment-grade credit rating and diversified portfolio, Simply Safe Dividends expects Realty's dividend to remain a safe bet going forward.

Healthcare Trust of America

Market value: $5.9 billion

Dividend yield: 4.7%

Dividend growth streak: 7 years

Sector: Real estate

Healthcare Trust of America (HTA) has invested more than $7 billion in medical office buildings since its founding in 2006, making it the largest dedicated owner of this type of property in the U.S.

The REIT seeks out buildings that are on or around the campuses of hospitals, academic medical centers, and other major healthcare systems. These sites have a steady flow of patients and are well positioned to provide cost-effective care, increasing demand for HTA's properties.

Healthcare Trust of America expects to have plenty of growth opportunities going forward since less than 20% of medical office buildings are owned institutionally. With an investment-grade credit rating, HTA should continue having access to affordable capital it can use to consolidate this fragmented industry.

Management takes price in Healthcare Trust's dividend track record as well. HTA is the only medical office buildings REIT to have raised its dividend each of the last seven years – a trend Simply Safe Dividends believes will continue, and one that justifies its inclusion in this list of 2021's best retirement stocks.


Market value: $25.6 billion

Dividend yield: 4.9%

Dividend growth streak: 18 years

Sector: Communications

Telus (TU) a Canadian Dividend Aristocrat, has raised its dividend for 18 straight years. The company's solid track record is attributable to the favorable qualities surrounding its core telecom business.

Matthew Dolgin, an equity analyst at Morningstar, notes that Telus' wireless business is insulated from competition thanks to its large subscriber base and national network. As a result, Canada's three largest wireless players account for 90% of the total market.

Meanwhile, in wireline, Dolgin writes that Telus' primary competition in its markets is Shaw, and the two companies dominate the space thanks to the efficient scale of their networks.

Coupled with the non-discretionary nature of these telecom services, Telus generates predictable results in good times and bad. In fact, during the 2007-09 Great Recession, Telus' sales dipped only 1%, according to data from Simply Safe Dividends.

Looking ahead, Telus should remain a reliable dividend play and an attractive retirement stock. Management even targets 7% to 10% annual dividend growth through 2022, making Telus an appealing candidate for income and growth.

W.P. Carey

Market value: $12.2 billion

Dividend yield: 6.0%

Dividend growth streak: 21 years

Sector: Real estate

Over more than four decades, W.P. Carey (WPC) has built a portfolio of 1,215 single-tenant industrial, warehouse, office, retail and self-storage properties across America and Europe.

Thanks to the quality of its properties and management's conservative approach to managing the business, the diversified REIT has increased its dividend each year since going public in 1998.

W.P. Carey keeps its portfolio diversified to reduce risk. No property type or industry exceeds 25% of rent, and the firm does business with more than 350 tenants, with none exceeding 3.5% of rent.

Occupancy of WPC's properties has also exceeded 96% since at least 2007, even throughout the pandemic, and the firm maintains a healthy investment-grade credit rating.

Overall, Simply Safe Dividends believes W.P. Carey remains positioned to continue extending its dividend growth streak and serving as one of the best retirement stocks.

Main Street Capital

Market value: $2.2 billion

Dividend yield: 7.8%

Dividend growth streak: 10 years

Sector: Financials

Main Street Capital (MAIN) an internally managed business development company (BDC), provides debt and equity capital to lower middle market companies that typically have annual revenues between $10 million and $150 million.

Despite the cyclical performance of these investments over a full economic cycle, Main Street has never decreased its monthly dividend rate since the firm went public in October 2007.

Management runs the business conservatively, diversifying the portfolio across 180 investments, keeping exposure to any single industry below 10% of the portfolio's cost basis, and employing only moderate amounts of leverage, earning the firm an investment-grade credit rating.

That said, BDCs can be riskier investments during downturns, which Simply Safe Dividends explained in its guide to investing in business development companies. However, Main Street's conservatism and long-term track record of managing risk make it one of the best retirement stocks for dividend income.

Brian Bollinger was long CCI, CSCO, D, DUK, ED, GIS, KMB, KO, MSM, ORI, PSA, VZ and WPC as of this writing.

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