December 2, 2004 was a pretty good day for Steve Ballmer. On that day, the 49-year-old CEO of Microsoft received a dividend check worth $1.2 billion.
Bill Gates, co-founder and Chairman of Microsoft at the time also got a big check. He collected more money in dividends than most people could earn in a thousand lifetimes -- nearly $3.4 billion.
If you think these two men received these checks because they were Microsoft executives who owned a lot of company stock, you're right... but only partially.
As you know, most dividend-paying stocks pay quarterly. Occasionally, you'll find a stock that pays monthly. To most investors, that's as good as income investing gets.
But what the majority of investors don't realize is this:
The stocks that give you the most potential for low-risk, high yields of 10% or more are from companies that have boatloads of cash and a history of paying special dividends.
In fact, it's entirely possible to collect 9 years of quarterly dividend payments (or more) in just one day by investing in dividend payers like this, which I'll show you how in a moment.
For those who need a refresher, here's how these special dividends work...
Imagine buying 1,000 shares in a company and getting paid $0.08 a share every quarter. This is fairly common. After a quarter, you'd have $80, and after a year, $320. That's a nice sum... but it's nothing to get too excited about.
Now, imagine that one of those quarterly payments wasn't $0.08... but instead you received an incredible $3.00 per share. That one payment alone would be worth $3,000.
That's exactly what Microsoft did in 2004 -- when the company had amassed $56 billion in cash and paid out a one-time special dividend worth 38 times more than its regular $0.08 per share dividend.
That's like getting nine years of dividend payments from Microsoft up front, all in just one day...
As you might imagine, Ballmer and Gates, who were invested in their own company, made a fortune overnight.
And while Gates and Ballmer were receiving billions that late fall day, thousands of everyday investors across the country also got checks for $1,000... $2,000... possibly even $50,000 or more by simply being invested in Microsoft.
Here's another way to look how lucrative that is. Let's say you had bought Microsoft shares for $20 each in 2004, right before the company paid out its special dividend. You would receive $0.08 per share over the next four quarters -- totaling $0.32 in regular dividends. But you'd also get a bonus -- a $3.00 per share special dividend.
By receiving $3.32 in dividends on your $20 per share investment, you would have collected an eye-popping 16.6% annual dividend yield on your shares.
And it wasn't just some one-time benefit for investors who bought in 2004 either. Cash-rich special-dividend payers like Microsoft also tend to rapidly increase their dividend payouts to shareholders over time, too.
Microsoft, for example, has increased its regular dividend payment 250% since it paid its special dividend in 2004. That means Microsoft investors who earned $1,000 from their shares in 2004 are earning $2,500 in dividends on those same shares today.
Now, the question is...
Since you can't go back to 2004 and get in on that special dividend payment, can you cash in on a similar special dividend today?
It's possible with Microsoft. After all, it holds $84 billion in cash and short-term investments -- about 50% more than it did in 2004.
But overall, your options are very limited. As I mentioned, to find companies that pay a big special dividend, you need to find the right companies carrying massive piles of cash.
That's where the "Dividend Vault" comes in. (I talked in more detail about the "Dividend Vault" here.)
With more than $1.9 trillion saved in the "Dividend Vault," companies across America are holding more cash than ever before. And with few options to grow in a shaky economy, several companies are paying out massive dividends -- and special dividends -- as a reward to their shareholders this year and many more years down the road.
In fact, I've pinpointed 13 companies that have billions in cash at their disposal from the "Dividend Vault." I believe these companies have the best chance of paying a massive, one-time special dividend payment sometime in the near future.
But others are less well known...
For example, one pharmaceutical company I found paid a $1.36 per share "special dividend" in 2004 when its stock was worth just $15 -- giving investors a 9.1% dividend yield that year. And I wouldn't be surprised to see it make another big payment in 2014. After all, the company holds four times more cash now than it did back then.
Another is a manufacturer that produces key parts for Apple products, which paid a "special dividend" of $2.33 per share in 1997 when its share price was trading around $10 -- giving shareholders a 23.3% yield that year alone... It holds nearly 3 times more cash today than it did back then.
One to really watch this year is a Texas-based petroleum refiner that's already paid two special dividends this year and could pay more by the end of 2014. The company has paid more than 11 special dividends since 2011, and has tripled the size of its regular dividend over the same time period. It also doesn't hurt that the CEO recently said that the company plans "to continue to pay both regular and special dividends" going forward.
Of course nothing is guaranteed, but if it continues at this rate, you could collect two more special dividends in 2014 from this company alone.
I could go on about special dividends, but if you want a closer look at the 13 stocks that could pay you an increasing amount of dividends and special dividends for decades, including several names and ticker symbols, then you'll want to see this latest research.