What is Passive Income?

7/26/2016



There are people whose income is not tied to their daily grind – at least, not completely. That’s because they have sources of “passive income”: money that keeps rolling in even when they’re not on the job.

This is the reason why passive income so attractive: there’s no direct link between the number of hours you work and/or must be present in the business, and the amount of money you can make.

With passive income, you would keep getting paid whether or not you do any meaningful work. You may do a lot of work up front to get the ball rolling, but eventually you reach a point where the passive income stream gets activated. At this point you can essentially stop working on this income stream if you so desire, and more money will keep flowing to you through this stream regardless what you do or don’t do.

Passive income doesn’t mean one-time lump sum payments such as an inheritance or the sale of an asset like your home or some stock you own. Passive income is a source of income with some sense of continuation over time.


Passive income doesn’t mean permanent income. Some forms of passive income may last a few years. Other forms may keep going for decades or even for centuries across multiple generations. But all forms of income eventually dry up for one reason or another.

Passive income doesn’t mean 100% secure income. As Helen Keller wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition.” Some forms of income are more secure than others, but there’s always a risk element. For any income source, there’s a non-zero probability that something could destroy it. This is one reason it’s often wise to create multiple streams of income, so you can reduce the risk that all of them will fail simultaneously.

Passive income doesn’t mean perfectly 100% passive with no maintenance required. With any income source, you may need to do a little maintenance to keep it going. Sometimes this is really easy and only involves checking your mail and depositing checks. Sometimes it’s even more passive when the money is deposited directly into your bank account every month. But then you may still need to report this income and pay taxes on it.

Passive income is really a spectrum of possibilities. Some income streams are very passive. If you do essentially no maintenance on them for years, the income will keep coming.

Other income streams are semi-passive. You may need to do some work to maintain them even if you’re not working for a salary. For example, if you own a house and rent it out, you may earn passive income as rent payments from your tenants. But you may also need to invest some time, energy, and money to maintain the property, to find new tenants when the place goes vacant, and to handle the mortgage, insurance payments, and property taxes. If your tenants get ornery or become delinquent, you may need to do even more work. You may delegate much of this work to someone else, but then you have a business partner or employee to manage instead.

Passive income doesn’t mean it’s passive for everyone. There may be other people with regular jobs who do some of the work that enables you to receive passive income. You may also leverage technology to do a lot of work for you. The level of passivity is perspective dependent. One person’s passive income is another person’s active income.

Remember that passive income is not money earned for doing nothing. Creating a passive income stream takes work. A few sources of passive income, such as car wrap advertising or shopping apps, don’t take all that much work – but they don’t pay that much either. Passive income streams that can bring in enough money to live on, such as writing a book or owning and managing rental properties, require a major investment of time, effort, and sometimes cash.

However, passive income has one big advantage: Once that work is done, the money continues to come in, with no additional effort on your part. This means that if you spend enough time during your working years setting up streams of passive income, you’ll eventually reach a point where you can collect enough to get by with little or no extra effort. And until then, you can enjoy the extra cash.

Written by Steve Pavlina

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