A lot of the talk in the market about cuts to the big four banks’ dividends derives from the fact that many analysts believe the payout ratios are too high (or at least will be too high soon) to be able to sustain such great dividends we are all used to.

The payout ratio is the percentage of its earnings which a company pays out to shareholders through the form of dividends. Analysts believe the banks will be forced to hold back more of their earnings to cope with higher capital requirements.

So, when income investors are looking for a high-quality dividend share, I feel it is important to check on the sustainability of its dividend. Three shares which I feel offer a strong and sustainable dividend are:

Credit Corp Group Limited (ASX: CCP)

As the name implies, Credit Corp is an Australian receivables management company which provides debt purchase and debt collection services. The company has recently expanded into the US market, which could prove to be a catalyst to earnings growth in the future. Especially with the strong US dollar.

At present its shares yield a fully franked 4.7% dividend. In the last few years the company has consistently paid out 53% of its earnings. With analysts expecting earnings to grow by 14% per annum through to fiscal 2018, I feel this is a dividend destined to continue its excellent performance shown through seven consecutive years of growth.

Challenger Ltd (ASX: CGF)

Challenger is another company which has grown its dividend for seven consecutive years. In fact, over the last five years it has grown its dividend by an average of 15% per year. The shares of this investment management firm currently yield a fully-franked 4.1% forward dividend.

With earnings expected (by CommSec analysts) to grow by 5% per annum for the next two years, the low payout ratio of 53% and a robust balance sheet will allow the company to continue this excellent dividend growth in my opinion.

QBE Insurance Group Ltd (ASX: QBE)

QBE Insurance went through a difficult patch a couple of years ago when the company made a $284 million loss due to asset writedowns and a higher-than-expected volume of insurance claims in its US operations. The company appears to have learnt from this and is now looking much more assured.

For the next three years the market is expecting earnings and dividends to grow by 21% and 25% per annum, respectively. With a payout ratio in the region of 63% I feel this is a highly sustainable dividend, which is predicted to yield a fully-franked 7% next year at the current share price.

Foolish takeaway

For me these three shares represent strong dividend payers with a good level of sustainability which could prove invaluable for income investors. Unfortunately there is no share on the market which is completely guaranteed against cuts. But by choosing carefully with shares possessing low payout ratios, I feel you can at least eliminate a portion of the risk.

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Motley Fool contributor James Mickleboro has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.