Another strong year for U.S. dividend stocks is in the works. That is good news for income investors and dividend exchange traded funds.

Net dividend increases totaled $17.8 billion in the first quarter, up almost 23% year-over-year. Nearly 1,100 dividend increases were reported during the quarter, displacing the prior first quarter record of 1,069 set in 1979. Q1 2014 is 14.2% higher than the 944 increases in Q1 2013, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. [Record First Quarter for Dividends]

As of mid-June, there have been 225 payout increases from S&P 500 members this year and 422 members of the benchmark index that now pay cash dividends, up from 418 at the end of last year, according to S&P Capital IQ.

Telecom and utilities dominate in terms of yield, but “relative to the end of 2012, there are five more Consumer Discretionary constituents, five more Energy constituents and five more Industrial constituents now paying a dividend,” said S&P Capital IQ in a new research note.

Amid rampant dividend growth across myriad sectors over the past several years, including old standbys consumer staples and health care and dividend growth avenues such as technology, some investors are embracing diversified ETFs as ways of accessing dividends. [Remember This Familiar Dividend ETF]

The Vanguard Dividend Appreciation (NYSEArca: VIG), rated overweight by S&P Capital IQ, is the largest U.S. dividend ETF and is fertile ground for ETF and income investors alike.

VIG’s yield is in the neighborhood of the S&P 500’s and well below that of 10-year Treasuries, but the ETF has gained a cult-like following for its emphasis on quality stocks with minimum dividend increase streaks of at least 10 years. While VIG’s yield does not awe, its lineup is home to some of the safest dividend stocks in terms of those companies’ ability to continue paying and growing dividends. [Dividend ETFs With Safe Dividends]

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