According to Uncle Sam, you need to be "materially involved" in an enterprise to earn active income. With passive income, it's just the opposite, as the IRS deems you to be earning passive income if you're not materially involved with a profit-making enterprise. By and large, expect income to be taxable if you are engaged in a passive income enterprise. You will need to report earnings to the IRS.
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.
You know the fantasy: write some ebook (or better yet, hire freelancers in Mumbai to research and write it for you at $.20/word!) on some niche topic, set up AdWords and Facebook campaigns targeted to the right keywords (you can hire those Mumbai guys to do your keyword research too), put up a cheap landing page (with copy written by... guess who!), press "Go!" on the PPC campaign, and voilà. . . just wait for the money to roll in while you sleep!
2. Focus on income-producing assets. Internet growth stocks may be sexy, but they provide no income. To build a large enough passive-income stream to survive, you must invest in dividend-generating stocks, certificates of deposit, municipal bonds, government Treasury bonds, corporate bonds, and real estate. You're free to invest in non-income-producing assets for capital appreciation too. You just want to earn reliable income when the day comes to leave your job.
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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.
So many great tips in this big post, thanks! I think it’s so true that people should focus on the things they do well at and are interested in. And yes save, save, save in the beginning and throughout. I have several interest and dividend earning investments and am looking to expand further. Diversification is a great goal for all of us so we can avoid having all our eggs in one basket.
My favorite type of semi-passive income was rental property because it was a tangible asset that provided reliable income. As I grew older, my interest in rental property waned because I no longer had the patience and time to deal with maintenance issues and tenants. Online real estate became more attractive, along with tax-free municipal-bond income once rates started to rise.

If you need cash flow, and the dividend doesn’t meet your needs, sell a little appreciated stock. (or keep a CD ladder rolling and leave your stock alone). At the risk of repeating myself, whether you take cash out of your portfolio in the form of “rent”, dividend, interest, cap gain, laddered CD…., etc. The arithmetic doesn’t change. You are still taking cash out of your portfolio. I’m just pointing out that we shouldn’t let the tail wag the dog. IOW, the primary goal is to grow the long term value of your portfolio, after tax. Period. All other goals are secondary.
Anthony, nice setup! To your question about the rental mortgages, you haven’t said what interest rate you are paying. As a start, if you are paying more than the risk free rate (Treasury bills) which you probably are, then a true apples to apples comparison would be yes, pay off the mortgage. But, if you are comfortable taking more risk, you have other options to invest in which you *hope* will yield you more over the coming years. You also didn’t say whether the rentals generate net income and if so, how much? What is the implied rate of return on the equity you have invested in them? If you pay the mortgages off, you’ll have even more equity tied up, will the extra net income make that worthwhile? Maybe you should use the money to buy more rentals instead, if purchase opportunities still exist in your town. … this is less of an answer than a framework to analyze the decision, hope it is helpful.
In order to generate $10,000 in Net Operating Profit After Tax (NOPAT) through a rental property, you must own a $50,000 property with an unheard of 20% net rental yield, a $100,000 property with a rare 10% net rental yield, or a more realistic $200,000 property with a 5% net rental yield. When I say net rental yield, I’m talking about rental income minus all expenses, including a mortgage, operating expenses, insurance, and property taxes.

(Of course, you can also always get passive income by buying-and-holding US Treasuries, which are paying out around 4.2%. The BLS just reported inflation at 3.6%. No one's going to get rich with that level of passive income net of inflation. And according to Shadow Government Statistics, the real rate of inflation you and I are actually experiencing---including at the grocery store checkout line, at the gas pump, and at the doctor's office---not the massaged statistics the government puts out, is actually much higher, perhaps up to 11%. So government bonds could actually be not passive income---however meager---but passive losses.)


Those who choose to focus on passive income will need either family money, funds from investors, or the nerve to borrow large sums by taking on debt to fund the purchase of assets. Consider someone who takes out substantial bank loans to build an apartment building or buy rental houses. Although this can turn a very small amount of equity into a large cash flow stream, it is not without risk. When using borrowed money, the margin of safety is much smaller because you can’t absorb the same degree of setback before defaulting and finding you balance sheet obliterated.
Investing in real estate: Investing in real estate offers more passive income cash potential - but more risk - than investing in stocks or bonds. You'll need substantial amounts of cash to invest in buying a home -- it usually takes 20% down to land a good home mortgage loan. But history shows that home prices usually rise over time, so buying home a for $200,000 and selling it for $250,000 over a five-year time period, for example, is a reasonable expectation when investing in real estate.
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