There is a specific tax definition of passive income, known as “passive activity” to the Internal Revenue Service. Passive income is any income you make without actively working or are materially involved. The IRS defines it as any rental activity or any business in which the taxpayer does not “materially participate.” Nonpassive activities, or active activities, are businesses in which the taxpayer works on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis.

This was a very inspirational article! I too spent 20+ years in a high-stress career selling a high-end product under a 100 percent commission plan; that is, no salary! I realized, after racking up millions of frequent flyer miles, that there had to be a better and less-stressful way of making a living. My goal was to design my own lifestyle free of corporate shackles, which required a pre-determined amount of passive income.
Wow! What an awesome list! My favorite is the stock photography because I love photography. I have had some success there, particularly with one photo I make some decent income from. I think the key with stock photography is finding a shot that is high demand. Then, find a new unique way to frame that shot. This is the reason my St. Louis Arch photo is a top 10 on both ShutterStock and iStockPhoto. Thanks for the awesome ideas above!
A good portion of my stock allocation is in growth stocks and structured notes that pay no dividends. The dividend income that comes from stocks is primarily from S&P 500 index exchange-traded funds. Although this is a passive-income report, as I'm still relatively young I'm more interested in building a large financial nut through principal appreciation rather than through dividend investing. As an entrepreneur, I can't help but have a growth mindset.
I guess I just don’t understand why the specific importance of focusing on “dividends” instead of focusing on the total return of your investment, including stock appreciation. I don’t really care if a company decides to issue a dividend or not; presumably, if they don’t issue a dividend, then they’re doing other things to increase the value of the company, which will be reflected in the stock price of the company. As an investor, I can make money by selling a percentage of my holdings or collecting dividends, and I don’t really care how that’s divided up – it’s an artificial distinction.

6) Always Remember That Everything Is Relative. The best way to determine worthwhile passive income streams is by comparing the likely return (IRR) with the current risk-free rate of return. If I round up, the 10 year bond yield is at 3%. Any new venture should thoroughly beat 3% otherwise you are wasting your efforts since you can earn 3% doing nothing.


No argument here. It’s not for everybody. Just like you can’t imagine taking risks or finding the energy to be creative after you get home from work, I can’t imagine trading 40% of my waking life for money, leaving me with no time to actually spend the money I made. Even when building startups, I believe that I’m trading time for asset creation (which is why I still receive checks every month from my last startup). Nothing against you if 9–5 is how you choose to live, and in fact, I’m very happy for you if it makes you happy. Just know that you have a choice!
​If you pay your bills with a credit card make sure it offers cash back rewards. You can let your rewards accrue for a while and possibly put the easy money you earned toward another passive income venture! (Be sure that the card you select doesn’t have an annual fee or you might be cancelling out your rewards). Check out this list of the best Cashback Rewards Cards.

We usually think of Craigslist as a place to buy and trade random stuff, but Craigslist can actually be a great opportunity to sell your services online to an active and engaged audience. Simply check the “jobs” section and “gigs” section for specific cities and see if anything matches your skills. The great thing about Craigslist is that it is one of the highest converting traffic sources on the internet (think active buyers) which can mean more opportunities at higher pay. 

What I did:The first two years of work in NYC was brutal. I told myself there was no way I could work on Wall St for my entire career because I’d probably die from heart failure by age 40. Having an early death in my mind willed me to save 50%+ from the first year onward and devise a CD, real estate, and stock investment distribution system for my savings every year. I thought about starting this site for at least a year before I hired someone from Craigslist to give set me up and push me forward. Hiring someone to get started is totally worth it if you are a master procrastinator. You can now learn how to start your own site with my step-by-step guide to save yourself time and money. 

Vanguard: Vanguard has a minimum of $50,000 and a fee of 0.3%. Rebalancing is done automatically once every quarter and tax loss harvesting is done on a client-by-client basis. We included Vanguard because clients who invest between $50,000-$500,000 have access to a team of financial advisors. Those with accounts over $500,000 will have a dedicated advisor.
Dividends made sense 40 years ago as a relatively simple rule of thumb, but after all the work done by John Bogle with index investing, and academics with Monte Carlo sims and the 4% rule, dividend investing just isn’t the simplest, cleanest way to invest or receive passive income anymore. It’s actually significantly more risky compared to index investing, because dividend companies are a much smaller share of the total global economy compared to the broader indices.

One of the best ways to build wealth is to get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts on their Dashboard so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 28 different accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to track my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing, how my net worth is progressing, and where my spending is going.
From what he describes, creating passive income definitely does not sound easy. It requires a serious ramp-up -- often requires 80- to 100-hour workweeks in the beginning, says Flynn. But once up and running, and depending on the content, some sites take fairly minimal maintenance. Green Exam Academy, the LEED exam study site he launched in 2008, takes just him four to five hours a month to maintain but brings in $250,000 annually.
Courses are similar to guides but they’re easier to produce for some subjects, especially tech subjects. If you’ve got a computer, a decent microphone and some screen recording software, it’s pretty easy to create high quality courses. You can sell your course through your own site or you can use a marketplace like Udemy to do all the heavy lifting. 

I will share what we did, because it’s an incredible success story. We used an existing tax loophole where if you sell your primary residence (after having lived there at least two years) you get to keep your profit tax-free. So, we stair-stepped. We bought house after house, at least two years apart, used the profit money to pay down on the next house (so on and so forth, yadda yadda) building up equity as we went along… and now, we own a $600,000 house debt-free. And now we are using our paid-off home as leverage to borrow money to buy commercial buildings to rent out. I like commercial because it’s a BUSINESS transaction… kids, pets, other wear and tear that you see with residential rentals is nonexistent. People take care of their business space much better than residential. You have to be in a good area for renting out commercial – a thriving business community – to make this work. But that’s how we “made it”, and though it took 15 years, we will have residual income to take care of us when we’re old enough to retire. People made fun of us for moving so much, but who’s laughing now? 😉 Oh, and our child only had to change schools once (and we wanted to anyway) because we stayed in the same general area as we moved around. We were careful not to disrupt his life too much.
It’s a (mostly) short term, higher risk, higher reward place to invest cash that has a low correlation with the stock market, but is far more passive than buying and managing properties, has more opportunity for diversification than private placements (minimums of 5-10K, rather than 100K), and most of the equity offerings (and all of the debt offerings) provide monthly or quarterly incomes. Unlike a REIT, you can choose exactly which projects you wish to invest in.
Question: You mention receiving $200k of passive income a year, but your chart shows half of that coming from real estate holdings, and reading between the lines it appears that you hold mortgages against those holdings. Then you conclude that $200k/yr of passive income should be enough to live comfortably anywhere in the world. So are you subtracting your real estate expenses (taxes, insurance, mortgage payments, maintenance, remote property management company fees, etc.) when you report your passive income from those properties? Really I think it’s the net (after taxes and everything) that tells us what is left over to “spend” on living, right? When I set up my spreadsheet to retire early at age 47, I calculated the after-tax income I would need to live. Then I compared that to my income streams (estimating tax on the taxable income streams) to measure the surplus/shortfall. Also some good advice from GoCurryCracker: If you can minimize your taxes so you’re in the 15% tax bracket, you can possibly receive tax-free long term capital gains. I agree with your philosophy that time is more important than money as we age. I am not sure I agree with a philosophy that is fixated on needing such a large income, and would rather minimize taxes if it’s all the same on the happiness meter. Furthermore, having 20 plus income sources in the name of diversification adds stress and requires more management (TIME!). I think this is fine for those of us while young, as we have the energy to work hard. But as time becomes more important, the extra headache of managing, planning, and buying/selling our assets becomes a resented hindrance on par with the resentment we felt when working for an employer and fighting traffic each day to go to a job we hated. Every thing we own in actuality owns us, by virtue of its demands on our time and affections, and that includes investments. It also includes our home, and is a good reason for downsizing. As long as we have food on our table, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our bodies, what more do we need? I think we need to consider freeing ourselves from the weight of the chains of managing too many ventures. Personally, I plan on investing in no more than 5 simultaneous ventures ever, with the exception of some IRAs that I just plan to let sit for the next 20 years (and therefore no thought or anxiety required).
Passive income is attractive because it frees up your time so you can focus on the things you actually enjoy. If a doctor wants to earn the same amount of money and enjoy the same lifestyle year after year, they must continue to work the same number of hours at the same pay rate—or more, to keep up with inflation. Although such a career can provide a very comfortable lifestyle, it requires far too much sacrifice unless you truly enjoy the daily grind of your chosen profession. Additionally, once you decide to retire, or find yourself unable to work any longer, your income will cease to exist unless you have some form of passive income.

Pardon for being a bit of a newbie to true investing outside of a 401k. What about those of us who have 1) Just been laid off, and unable to find work due to lack of a degree (apparently 17 years in the industry with 5 certifications is just simply not enough – which is okay. It gave me the kick in the arse to get back to school finally) 2)Have three children to support (age 11 and under), and 3) Oh yeah – cannot find work. What do you recommend when the only source of positive revenue has ceased to come in and you now have less time than ever – due to responsibilities (i.e. doing well in university = academic scholarships means investment in time, plus spending 20 min breaks with kiddos) – to create positive sources of income ? I truly am wondering from an investor’s point of view how you would handle the pivot point of life if ever you had been faced with it. I realize this may be only imaginary, but at this point, I welcome your “what ifs” scenario on this one. You’ve truly done amazing work and I thank you for being so transparent.

A month later, the direct deposit hit my account. The next month brought another. I found myself greatly motivated to keep learning real estate, to understand what some of the terminology meant and the different ways to invest. Now that there was some money on the line, I became more interested than ever. Next thing you know, I had invested nearly $100,000 in total in various crowdfunding ventures.

3. Start as soon as possible. Building a livable passive-income stream takes a tremendously long time, largely because of declining interest rates since the late 1980s. Gone are the days of making a 5%-plus return on a short-term CD or savings account. Today, the best 12-month CD is at 2.5%, and the best money-market rate is about 1.85%, which is not bad, considering such rates were below 0.5% just a couple of years ago. Know that every $100 you save can generate at least $2.5 in passive income.
I live in NYC where I never thought buying rental property would be possible, but am looking into buying rental property in the Midwest where it cash flows and have someone manage it for me (turnkey real estate investing I guess some would call it). I agree with what Mike said about leverage and tax advantages, but I’m still a newbie to real estate investing so I can’t so how it will go. I have a very small amount in P2P…I’m at around 6.3% It’s okay but I don’t know how liquid it is and it still is relatively new…I’d prefer investing in the stock market.

I read about early withdrawal penalties on IRAs/401Ks very often. Almost always with a statement of “locked up” or “can’t touch” until 59.5. I’m sure you and well informed readers as well know about SEPPs in regard to IRAs/401Ks. For those that don’t SEPPs aren’t perfect but they are a way to tap retirement funds penalty free and I will be using in the future as I have over half of my equity investments within retirement accounts. South of a mil, North of a half. Let me add that I think your blog is outstanding.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of websites offering users the ability to get paid for taking surveys online. Same as with Cashback sites, if you encounter a survey site where sign up if not free, simply avoid it. I have not checked it myself, but a few online entrepreneurs suggest trying toluna.com. Also, you might want to try Cash Crate - In addition to getting paid for taking surveys, they offer cachbacks and other quick online income perks.
Now, if you choose to deliver part or all of your course in video format, you can use professional video hosting sites like Wistia or Vimeo. Beside giving you the option of removing the hosting company’s logo, these services also provide analytics which can show you how effective your video is at holding your audience’s attention. Alternatively, you can use litmos, a learning management system that enables you to create an online course with your own branding, domain name, and landing page. There is no percentage cut taken from your revenue like Udemy. Instead there is a monthly fee for their service.
Nonpassive: Businesses in which the taxpayer materially participates. Also, salaries, guaranteed payments, 1099 commission income and portfolio or investment income are deemed to be nonpassive. Portfolio income includes interest income, dividends, royalties, gains and losses on stocks, pensions, lottery winnings, and any other property held for investment

Betterment – Betterment was the first robo-advisor to launch, almost ten years ago. They’ve automated the entire investing process, so all you have to do is watch your portfolio of assets grow (over the long run, of course). They do charge a .25% annual fee of your account total, so if you’ve got $100,000 that’s being managed by Betterment, you’ll pay just over $20 per month.


Ever find yourself humming a tune, or laying down tracks for yourself or friends? Your next catchy phrase might fetch you a solid passive income stream. On sites like ProductionTrax and Audio Network, musicians can license their compositions for background music in apps, commercials, and websites to earn more money. Read more about this strategy at The Guardian.
Again, no leader worth her salt will be attracted to such an opportunity. And anyone you do hire to lead the value creation, if they have two brain cells, will see that she's the one adding all the value. Sooner or later she will simply find a way to cut you out of the value chain, either by requiring more and more compensation, or by going off and competing against you (and actively at that.) Why does she need you? You're not adding any value anyway!
Who cares? I don’t care one bit about building a “successful company” with most of my passive projects. That’s for my active projects — and I’ve done that when I converted them into active projects. For passive income, I can build products and automated services that are useful enough that people want to buy and use them. My Magento modules and Udemy course had 5 star ratings despite being passive. I knew back then that I could probably sell 2x as many copies of each if I made it my full time job — but I chose note to. I realized that if I could have more fun, get more fulfillment, and make more money out of other passive activities, and that’s why I don’t care that my passive businesses are small and nichey. Again, though, converting one of them into an active business has made it much more successful — so I would just remind you that they aren’t mutually exclusive, and if anything, having a Passive Income side business or 2 let’s you try out a few different waters before you dive in to any one.

A business factoring company that seamlessly integrates with a particular sales-tracking software and provides real-time distribution of commissions. You would need to find a factoring company or an investor who specializes in funding direct-response companies, a risk analyst to audit risk associated with each sale within a company, and a third-party payment verification service.
Money from dividends, for example, are taxed at a lower rate than money from a job. A business owner who works in the company she or he founded would have to pay more self-employment payroll taxes compared to someone who merely had a passive interest in the same limited liability company who would pay only income taxes. In other words, the same income earned actively would be taxed at a higher rate than if it were earned passively.
Like many, I was first really turned on to the idea of passive income by Tim Ferriss. In The Four Hour Work Week, he describes the system he developed with BrainQuicken, where the marketing, shipping, reordering, banking, and even customer service of the company was on complete auto-pilot. I found this idea intoxicating. The idea that Tim could travel the world learning to tango and staying on private islands while money just accumulated in his bank account seemed like some strange fiction — surely, this isn’t how people actually live, is it?
5) Determine What Income Level Will Make You Happy. Think back to when you made little to no income as a student. Now think back to the days when you just got started in your career. Were you happy then? Now go over every single year you got a raise or made more money doing something else. How did your happiness change at all, if any? Everybody has a different level of income that will bring maximum happiness due to different desires, needs, and living arrangements. It’s up to you to find out your optimum income level.
Acorns: Acorns is a great way to start investing and building wealth. As it turns out, Acorns will pay you $5 to start investing with them for as little as $1. That’s a 500% return, plus it’s probably time you started investing for your future. They even have features like round-up and found money that allows you to get free money from places you already shop at.

Great job, note the home upsizing works only in appreciating housing markets (I’ve done a similar this in CA but it was 7 years same home to gain almost 500k profit which is around the govt cap for tax-free home profits. What a gift! Thanks booming economy and generous govt taxation on home profits). Those proceeds bought our next house cash and invested the remainder in domestic stock (which has been equally profitable).
That strategy seems waaaayyyy less risky than actively picking stocks of supposedly “reliable” stocks that issue dividends, which could be cut at any time due to shifting industry trends and company performance. Dividend investing feels like an overly complex old-school way of investing that doesn’t have a very strong intellectual basis compared to index investing.
Very enlightening. I like that you have a number of discreet passive income streams working for you. I”m not sure about such a large CD/ bank holding though, though it looks as though its giving you a fairly healthy income. How do you feel about a rising inflation rate on your effective real cash return? I’m looking to diversify beyond my current dividend passive income. Rental income is what I expect we’ll be harvesting next. P2P lending is a little too out of my comfort zone. I had a lot of exposure to consumer credit risk models at a prior role, and it scared me the heck away from consumer lending!

What I like about p2p investing on Lending Club is the website’s automated investing tool. You pick the criteria for loans in which you want to invest and the program does the rest. It will look for loans every day that meet those factors and automatically invest your money. It’s important because you’re collecting money on your loan investments every day so you want that money reinvested as soon as possible.
The craziest part of this was I’d wake up in the morning and there would be more money in my bank account, from people who had bought my book overnight. When you think about it, an online store that sells something that’s digital is something that’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Using tools, software and systems, you can automate the delivery process so you literally don’t have to do anything to serve that audience. That’s super powerful.
In real estate, your passive opportunities are in private lending and rental properties. Private lending commonly involves lending funds to a real estate investor or business in exchange for a set return and length of time. (Full disclosure: I am co-partner of a turnkey investment company.) Turnkey rental properties allow the investor to be as hands-off as they like. This means a turnkey company purchases, rehabs, tenants and manages the property. To truly make this a passive investment, turnkey companies do all the work for you.

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Selling T-shirts and other apparel is a pretty saturated market but the tools to do it are easy to use, which makes it very quick and cheap to get going. If you’re creative enough, or tap into the zeitgeist properly, you can also have a runaway hit. Even if your first 19 T-shirts don’t sell more than a few copies, your 20th might make up for everything.
Which all goes back to my point – since companies change in a lot of unpredictable ways, it makes more sense for passive income to just ride the market by investing in a Total Domestic Stock Market, Total Bond Market, and Total International index funds, with allocations that depend on your goals and time horizon. For income, withdraw 4% or less, depending on what research you believe, and you’ve got a pretty low risk strategy.
This was a very inspirational article! I too spent 20+ years in a high-stress career selling a high-end product under a 100 percent commission plan; that is, no salary! I realized, after racking up millions of frequent flyer miles, that there had to be a better and less-stressful way of making a living. My goal was to design my own lifestyle free of corporate shackles, which required a pre-determined amount of passive income.
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I’m feeling inspired! I’ve been a PT for 19 years and I feel I have so much experience to offer but have been so intimated by starting a blog. I also subscribed to Michelle’s website but wasn’t sure it was for real. Is it for real? After reading this I feel like it’s time to take the plunge, I need to start a blog, I have so many ideas and even course ideas. I want to get away from the paperwork that plagues our healthcare system but not leave the field so the blog just might be the answer. I’ve been a landlord for 15 years now, great investment for sure, renters paid for the down payment of our house and should hopefully help pay for our kids college. I’d love to have one more! Thank you for the inspiration, wish me luck with my blogging!

Awesome article…if this does not give somebody a clear roadmap, they probably were never going to get there in the first place! I’m kind of like you trying to figure out where to place “new” money and maturing CD’s in this low interest environment. Rates have to go up eventually…I dream of the days again where you can build a laddered bond portfolio paying 8%. I plan for a 5.5% blended rate of return, with big downside protection.
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