When it comes to buying stocks, dividends are icing on the cake. Whatever your personal style of stock trading may be, incorporating dividend-paying companies into your portfolio is one of the most effective strategies to maximize your long-term returns and generate consistent cash as an investor.

However, as ill economic winds from the pandemic have forced many companies to temporarily suspend dividend payments, finding the right dividend stocks to invest in right now is especially tough. While the average dividend stock trading on the S&P 500 pays a yield of less than 2%, the stocks on this list each have yields that exceed 4%.

Here's why dividend investors should take a second look at these three top stocks.

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1. AbbVie

Biopharmaceutical behemoth AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV) pays a dividend that yields just shy of 5% based on current share prices. The company also boasts a title few dividend-paying stocks can lay claim to. AbbVie is a Dividend Aristocrat, having raised its dividend every year for more than 40 years. Assuming the company keeps this track record up, it's just a few years away from being crowned a Dividend King.

AbbVie's stellar portfolio of medicines stretches across a range of disciplines, from immunology to oncology to neuroscience, but its most prominent product is undoubtedly Humira.   The household-name immunology drug continues to be the company's top-selling medicine quarter after quarter. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and growing competition from biosimilars, Humira still amassed total global net revenues of $14.6 billion during the first three quarters of 2020. Bear in mind, AbbVie's total net revenues across all of its medicines came to $32 billion during that nine-month period, meaning that Humira currently generates about half of all the company's revenues. 

Some investors have been concerned about AbbVie's dependency on Humira to grow its top line, particularly in light of the fact that the drug loses exclusivity in the U.S in just two years. The good news is, AbbVie has several other top-selling drugs to fall back on, not to mention a robust pipeline of promising drug candidates to treat conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Besides Humira, Skyrizi, Rinvoq, and Imbruvica are also on the list of AbbVie's most lucrative drugs. These three products alone brought in total third-quarter net revenues of $435 million, $215 million, and $1.4 billion, respectively, for the period ended Sept. 30, 2020.

And thanks to AbbVie's acquisition of Allergan last year, the company now boasts Botox among its portfolio of products. Botox will continue to have a positive impact on AbbVie's balance sheet in the coming years, and could help to offset a future decline in Humira revenues. Botox generated nearly $1 billion in total net revenues during the third quarter alone. With its portfolio of best-selling medicines, strong pipeline, and oh-so-juicy dividend, AbbVie is one of the top stocks for long-term investors to buy in today's healthcare landscape.

2. Verizon

Verizon (NYSE:VZ) pays an above-average yield of 4.5%. The stock also trades super cheaply ($55) at just 13 times trailing earnings. The 5G giant enjoyed a remarkably good year in 2020 despite the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and management is expecting continued strong performance in 2021.

Verizon reported consolidated operating revenues to the tune of $128 billion for full-year 2020, representing a slim 3% decrease from its 2019 revenues. And in the final quarter of 2020 ended Dec. 31, the company's consolidated operating revenues were only down 0.2% compared to the year-ago period. Verizon's consumer revenues declined modestly in 2020, but the company grew its wireless retail postpaid net subscribers by 357,000 and added 284,000 postpaid smartphone net subscribers in the fourth quarter. And Verizon's revenues from its media segment grew by a whopping 11% in the final quarter of 2020.

By far, one of Verizon's greatest strengths lies in its solid cash position, which has helped it weather the uncertainty of the current economic climate and reduce its debt throughout the pandemic. In 2020, Verizon grew its operating cash flow by nearly 17% and its free cash flow by 32% compared to 2019. Looking ahead to 2021, management expects the company to increase its top line by 2% or more and that wireless service revenues will jump 3% or higher.

Verizon isn't a high-growth stock, but its attractive dividend and the overall resilience of its business that serves a constant consumer need make it a compelling play for value-driven investors.

3. Realty Income

Realty Income (NYSE:O) is a real estate investment trust (REIT). The promise of impressive dividends is one of the most common reasons investors buy shares of an REIT, and Realty Income certainly doesn't disappoint on that score. Not only does the Dividend Aristocrat pay an impressive yield of 4.6%, but it pays a dividend to investors on a monthly rather than a quarterly basis.

Realty Income's portfolio encompasses well over 6,500 properties around the world, operating in more than 50 different industries. Among Realty Income's most well-known tenants are Walgreens, 7-Eleven, FedEx, Dollar General, and LA Fitness. Since the REIT held its initial public offering (IPO) in 1994, it has delivered a compound average annual total return of more than 15% to investors. And with close to 100 quarters of successive dividend growth under its belt, few stocks can compete with Realty Income's dividend star power.

During the first nine months of 2020, Realty Income's revenues increased nearly 12% from the year-ago period. The fact that Realty Income's leases to many well-known essential-status businesses has helped it to avoid some of the pitfalls other REITs have faced during the pandemic. Realty Income also continued to expand its portfolio during the third quarter, which is a good indicator of its financial strength and ongoing ability to deliver meaningful growth despite the challenging economic climate. Management said, "During the third quarter, we invested $658.6 million, $230 million of which represents investments in the U.K., primarily in high-quality real estate leased to leading operators in essential and resilient industries, like the grocery, home improvement and convenience store industries."

At the time of this writing, Realty Income has total assets of nearly $20 billion, compared to approximately $9 billion in total liabilities. It also maintains strong liquidity, with cash and cash equivalents totaling $724.8 million. Finding a premium stock that pays a monthly dividend and has a rock-solid balance sheet is no easy feat, but Realty Income delivers on all counts.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.