Passive income is highly sought after and often misunderstood.
Passive income streams require an upfront investment and a lot of nurturing in the beginning. After some time and hard work these income streams start to build and are able to maintain themselves, bringing you consistent revenue without much effort on your part.
Speaking from personal experience, adding passive income streams to your portfolio can help you increase your earnings and accelerate your financial goals in tremendous ways. For example, getting started with real estate with Fundrise for just $500 can accelerate your income and your other goals.
For example, you can use passive income streams to help you get out of debt or achieve financial independence sooner.
If you want to get started earning passive income here’s what you should know first.
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If you want to skip straight to the ideas, here you go:
What It Takes To Earn Passive Income
Before we get into the passive income ideas I think it’s a good idea to first clear up a couple of misconceptions. Although the word “passive” makes it sound like you have to do nothing to bring in the income this just isn’t true. All passive income streams will require at least one of the following two elements:
1) An upfront monetary investment, or
2) An upfront time investment
You can’t earn residual income without being willing to provide at least one of these two. Today, I have a big list of passive income ideas you can try regardless of the category you fall in.
Check out the video on passive income ideas here:
Passive Income Ideas Requiring an Upfront Monetary Investment
These types of passive income require you to invest money up front to generate the passive income later. Don't be alarmed though - you can start with as little as $5 with some of these ideas, so it's achievable for everyone.
1. Dividend Stocks
Dividend stocks are tried and true way to earn passive income. You will have to do plenty of research to find good stocks and invest a significant amount of money to receive large dividend checks. However, if you consistently invest money into dividend stocks you can amass a nice residual income over time.
For any of these investment opportunities, make sure you open an account at the best online brokerage, and get rewards while doing it.
This is amazing for investing in dividend stocks because you can build your portfolio of, say, 30 stocks. Then, your investments will be auto-allocated to your entire portfolio every deposit - for FREE! You can even auto-rebalance. Then, your dividends can also be reinvested. It's a fantastic platform, and it was made for this.
Read our full M1 Finance review here.
2. Rental Properties
A cash flowing rental property is a fantastic way to bring in a monthly income. To make this truly passive you can outsource the running of the properties to a management company.
However, the internet has made investing in rental properties easier than ever before. There are a lot of ways you can invest in rental properties depending on what your goals and interests are. You can be a limited partner in large residential or commercial properties, or you can buy homes and be a landlord - all online!
Invest In Single Family Homes
If you're looking for a more traditional path to real estate investment, check out Roofstock. This company allows you to buy cash-flow positive single family rentals - online! You can sign up and start searching properties today. Check out Roofstock here.
The great thing about using a platform versus doing it yourself is that the income is even more passive. Check out our full Roofstock review here.
Invest In Larger Developments
Do you not want to be a landlord, but still want real estate exposure and income? Then consider being a limited partner in a large development. With these options, you can invest in multi-family or commercial properties. You get the income and tax treatment just like regular real estate ownership, but you don't do any of the work!
Our favorite platform for this is RealtyMogul because you get the flexibility to invest as little as $1,000, but can also participate in REITs and private placements – typically not offered to the public. Investors can fund real estate loans to gain passive income or buy an equity share in a property for potential appreciation. Their platform is open to both accredited and non-accredited investors.
Read our full RealtyMogul review here.
Invest In Farmland
Farmland isn't sexy, but it has a lot going for it when it comes to real estate investing. It's slow, steady, pays consistent rent, and everyone needs to eat. Plus, compared to other types of real estate its much less volatile. There's two major companies that allow you to invest in farmland. FarmTogether and AcreTrader.
Check out our reviews and get started:
For Accredited Investors
One of my favorite ways to get started with rental properties is through EquityMultiple. Similar to LendingClub, you can start investing in real estate for as little as $5,000 at platforms like EquityMultiple.
This platform has a nice mix of smaller residential to mixed use residential and commercial properties. Read our full EquityMultiple review here.
3. High Yield Savings Accounts And Money Market Funds
If you don't want to think much about your money, but want it to work for you, a basic place to put it is in a high yield savings account or money market fund.
The difference is in the account type and where it's located. Typically, high yield savings accounts are located at banks, and are FDIC insured. Money market funds can be located at both banks and investment companies, and are only sometimes FDIC insured.
Interest rates have been rising, so putting more money into a savings account can generate a safe passive income stream.
If you want the most up to date rates on savings accounts and money markets, check out these lists that we update the rates daily on:
4. CD Ladders
Building a CD Ladder requires buying CDs (certificates of deposits) from banks in certain increments so that you can earn a higher return on your money. CDs are offered by banks and since they are a low risk investment they also yield a low return. This is a good option for the risk averse.
For example, what you do if you want a five-year CD ladder is you do the following. Look how the rates rise over different time periods (these are estimated):
- 1 Year CD - 2.50%
- 2 Year CD - 2.90%
- 3 Year CD - 3.05%
- 4 Year CD - 3.10%
- 5 Year CD - 3.15%
If building a CD Ladder sounds complicated, you can also stick to a traditional high yield savings account or money market fund. While the returns aren't as amazing as other things on this list, it's better than nothing, and it's truly passive income!
We recommend building a CD Ladder at CIT Bank because they have one of the best CD products available. High rates and even a penalty-free CD option (which currently earns 0.30% APY). Check out CIT Bank here.
Check out these great deals on the best high yield CDs on our full list of the best CD rates that get updated daily.
Annuities are an insurance product that you pay for but can then provide you passive income for life in the form of monthly payments. The terms with annuities vary and are not always a great deal so it’s best to talk to a trusted financial advisor if you’re interested in purchasing an annuity.
These investments aren't for everyone - they can come with high fees, and not be worth it. But if you have zero risk tolerance for loss, and are looking for a passive income stream, this could be a good potential idea for you your portfolio.
6. Invest Automatically In The Stock Market
If you're not interested in picking dividend paying stocks (and I can understand that), there are still ways to invest passively in the stock market. You can automatically invest in various ways through what's called a robo-advisor.
A robo-advisor is just like what it sounds like - a robotic financial advisor. You spend about 10 minutes answering a few questions and setting up your account, and the system will take it from there.
The most popular robo-advisor is Betterment - which you can setup to automatically invest in and they will handle the rest for you. What's great about Betterment is that they charge one of the lowest fees in the robo-advisor industry, and they make it really easy to invest automatically.
Plus, Betterment is currently doing a promotion where you can get up to 1 year free! Read our full Betterment review here.
Sign up for Betterment here and get started investing for a passive income!
7. Invest In A REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust)
If you're concerned about investing directly in real estate, or maybe you're not yet an accredited investor, that's okay. You can still take advantage of real estate in your investments through REITs - Real Estate Investment Trusts.
These are investment vehicles that hold property within them - and you as the owner get to benefit from the gains, refinances, sale, income (or loss) on the property.
Our favorite platform to invest in a REIT is Fundrise. They only have a $500 minimum to get started and offer a variety of options we love as well!
Check out our full Fundrise review here.
8. Invest In A Business
Another way to generate passive income is to invest and be a silent partner in a business. This is very risky, but with risk comes the potential for high returns. For example, several years ago both Lyft and Uber were looking for private investors to invest in their companies. Today, they are worth billions - but you as an investor would only reap that benefit if they go public via an IPO, or get acquired. So, it's risky.
But there are ways to reduce your risk. For example, you can invest small amounts in many companies through lending them money in small bonds.
There are now tools available where you can loan money to a business and get paid a solid return for doing it!
Revenue Sharing Notes
MainVest is a company that allows you to invest in a business who agrees to share a percentage of their future revenue until their investors receive a return on investment. You can start investing in businesses for as little as $100, and you get repaid your principal and interest over time. Check out MainVest here.
Lend To Businesses For Inventory
9. Refinance Your Mortgage
This may sound strange in a passive income article, but refinancing your mortgage can be a great way to free up a lot of income and save you $100,000s over the life of your loan. That's a pretty good gain in my book.
Right now, interest rates are still near historic lows, and if you haven't checked out your mortgage lately, now's a great time to shop around and compare rates. If you can save 0.50% or more on your loan, you're potentially adding tens of thousands of dollars back into your pocket. Not many investments can beat that.
10. Pay Off Or Reduce Debt
Along the same lines as refinancing your mortgage, if you can pay off or reduce your debt, you're making huge progress in building income. But just like other things in this topic - it takes a monetary investment to make that happen.
The great thing about paying off debt is that it's a straight return. If you have a credit card at 10% interest, paying it off is a 10% return on your money! That's huge.
There's two approaches you can take with debt: refinance or consolidate, or balance transfer and pay down.
If you have student loan debt, it could make a lot of sense to refinance the debt. You can see if it makes sense in 2 minutes at Credible without a hard credit check. If you decide to proceed, College Investor readers get up to a $750 gift card bonus when they refinance through this link.
Read our full Credible review here.
If you have credit cards or other debt, it can make sense to consolidate with a personal loan. This is typically the best option when you can't see yourself paying off the debt in a year, but want to lower your interest. Credible also allows you to compare personal loan options, so check it out here and see if it makes sense.
Finally, you could get a 0% balance transfer card and use your 0% time to pay off the debt. There are some credit cards right now that offer 15 months at 0% with no fees - that gives you over a year to pay off your debt. Learn more about these cards here.
11. Peer to Peer Lending
P2P lending is the practice of loaning money to borrowers who typically don’t qualify for traditional loans. As the lender you have the ability to choose the borrowers and are able to spread your investment amount out to mitigate your risk.
What's great about this is that you simply lend your money, and you get paid back principal and interest on that loan.
The median return on cash flow is 4.1% - which is better than any money market fund you're going to find today. Check out other CD alternatives.
Passive Income Ideas Requiring an Upfront Time Investment
The next section of passive income ideas require a time investment. Instead of using money, you need to put in sweat equity to make these happen.
Almost all of these ideas require starting a personal blog or website. But the great thing about that is that it's incredibly cheap to do. We recommend using Bluehost to get started. You get a free domain name and hosting starts at just $2.95 per month - a deal that you won't find many other places online! You can afford that to start building a passive income stream.
12. Sell an eBook Online
Self Publishing is mainstream today. When you purchase an eBook off of Amazon there’s a pretty good chance you’re buying a self-published book. Self-publishing is also ridiculously easy. I tried this a few years ago and couldn’t believe how simple the process was.
To self-publish a book you’ll first need to write and edit it, create a cover, and then upload to a program such as Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Don’t expect instant success though. There will need to be a lot of upfront marketing before you can turn this into a passive income stream.
13. Create a Course on Udemy
Udemy is an online platform that lets its user take video courses on a wide array of subjects. Instead of being a consumer on Udemy you can instead be a producer, create your own video course, and allow users to purchase it. This is a fantastic option if you are highly knowledgeable in a specific subject matter. This can also be a great way to turn traditional tutoring into a passive income stream!
14. Selling Stock Photos
Do you ever wonder where your favorite websites, blogs, and sometimes even magazines get their photos? These are normally bought from stock photo websites. If you enjoy photography you can submit your photos to stock photo sites and receive a commission every time someone purchases one of them.
One of the biggest marketplaces to sell stock photos is DepositPhotos. You can upload your photos are earn money whenever someone uses them.
In fact, check out this awesome story of one of our scholarship contestants who turned photography into a stock photo business.
15. Licensing Music
Just like stock photos you can license and earn a royalty off of your music when someone chooses to use it. Music is often licensed for YouTube Videos, commercials, and more.
With the amount of YouTube videos and podcasts that are being created, there is more demand than ever for music - and people are willing to pay for it.
The key way to do it is to get your music in a library that people can search. Check out this guide on how to license your music.
16. Create an App
If you own a smartphone or tablet then it’s safe to assume you have several apps downloaded. But have you ever had an amazing idea for an app? If so, you could consider hiring a programmer to create your app for you. You could then sell it on the App store for residual income.
17. Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is the practice of partnering with a company (becoming their affiliate) to receive a commission on a product. This method of generating income works the best for those with blogs and websites. Even then, it takes a long time to build up before it becomes passive.
If you want to get started with affiliate marketing check out this course on affiliate marketing and how to become a full time blogger.
18. Network Marketing
Network marketing, or multi-level marketing, seems to be on the rise. Companies such as Young Living Oils, Avon, Pampered Chef, and AdvoCare are all multi-level marketing companies. You can earn passive income through network marketing by building a team underneath you (often referred to as a down line.) Once you have a large team you can earn commissions off of their sales without having to do much.
19. Design T-Shirts
Sites like Cafe Press allow users to custom design items like T-shirts. If your design becomes popular and makes sales you’ll be able to earn royalties.
Even Amazon has gotten into this business. Amazon has a new service called Amazon Merch, where you simply upload your designs and Amazon takes care of the rest (making it, packing it, and shipping it).
20. Sell Digital Files on Etsy
I’ve been into home décor lately and I had to turn to Etsy to find exactly what I wanted. I ended up purchasing digital files of the artwork I wanted printed out! The seller had made a bunch of wall art, digitized, and listed it on Etsy for instant download. There are other popular digital files on Etsy as well such as monthly planners. If you’re into graphic design this could be an amazing passive income idea for you.
Semi-Passive Small Business Ideas
I call these semi-passive income because they are more like a business, less like the ideas above. They all also require a small combination of time and money investment. But once you invest, you can earn more income and typically do so passively.
However, these all do require some ongoing time investment, so they aren't 100% passive like having a savings account.
21. List Your Place On Airbnb
AirBNB is great because you can earn money on a space you already own. It does require a little work up front to prep your place, list it, and clean up after guests, but it's pretty passive otherwise.
22. Car Wash
It’s always been a dream of mine to own a car wash. This seems like such a great way to earn a semi-passive income. While regular maintenance will be needed at a car wash it’s something you can either hire out or perform once a week.
As a side note, I'm talking about the really basic car wash that is cinderblocks, a pressure washer, and coin operated. If you're going to run a drive through car wash, it's definitely a business vs. a passive income stream.
23. Rent Out Your Car
Similar to listing your place for rent, you can also list your car for rent. This can be truly passive because once you list your car, it can earn you income when you're not using it!
Our favorite partner to rent your car is Turo. Turo allows you to put your car out for rent, and when people rent it, Turo handles the rest!
The cool thing with Turo is that, depending on your location and what kind of car you have, you can make a decent passive income!
Check out Turo here and get started earning passive income with your car! Check out our list of other ways to make money with your car as well (most of the others aren't passive though).
24. Vending Machines
Vending machines are another great low maintenance small business idea. I have a friend who has vending machines all over neighboring towns. He replenishes and cashes them out once every two weeks. His vending machine business is part of his retirement plan.
25. Storage Rentals
My cousin owns a set of storage rentals and receives monthly checks for letting customers rent these out. The only time she seems to do any work for these is when she has an opening for one of the storage units.
If you're not sure about getting into this space, you can also invest in storage rentals via a REIT.
I debated on listing this one here because while in theory it seems like owning a laundromat would be semi-passive I anticipate there would be a whole lot of ongoing maintenance needed. You be the judge on this one.
Easy Passive Income Ideas
Last on the list I wanted to point out a couple of easy passive income ideas. These require no money and no upfront work. While the earnings are menial you still can’t beat easy passive income!
27. Cashback Rewards Cards
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.
28. Cashback Sites
Just like cashback rewards cards you should opt to use a cashback site when shopping online. If you don’t you’re giving up free money that requires little to no work! We just compared the two most popular sites - Rakuten versus TopCashBack.
29. Get Paid To Have An App On Your Phone
What if you could install an app on your phone, and get paid for it? Yes, this app tracks what you're doing and it sells your data - but what's more passive than that?
If you don't want to do anything out of the norm, check out Neilson Digital. You simply download the app and do what you normally do. The app runs in the background and you are entered to win rewards. Simple, easy way to get money for nothing! Download the app here.
Mobile Expression is a similar app for iPad. You can earn rewards for installing it and leaving it on your device for at least 90 days. And boom! You get paid!
30. Save Up To 30% On Your Electric Bill
Let's mark this one as passive saving versus passive income, but every little bit helps when you're looking at your bottom line.
Truebill is an app that helps you save money by identifying recurring subscriptions and other bills and helping you cut costs by negotiating better rates and fees. One of their partnerships is with Acradia Power, which has the potential to save you up to 30% on your electric bill. It searches for better power rates in areas where competition is allowed, and it locks in the better prices for you.
Read our full Truebill review here.
Check out Truebill here and see how much you can save.
How to Get Started
While it can be tempting to want to pick five passive income ideas to get started with I’d really encourage you to pick one in the beginning. You need time and the ability to focus to really a grow a passive income stream. Master one thing before moving on to the other.
It’s going to take a substantial amount of time or money in the beginning but I promise earning passive income is everything it’s cracked up to be! Pick an idea, make a plan, and dedicate yourself until that income stream comes to fruition.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I generate passive income?
Passive income is the idea that you deploy time and/or money and receive income with no further work. You have to do something to generate passive income up front, but then you can rely on that income into the future.
What are some examples of passive income?
Investing is a great example of passive income. You invest money in a company stock, and you receive a dividend payment and appreciation on the investment. Another popular example is real estate. You buy a property, and you enjoy the rent as passive income.
Does passive income really work?
Yes! Passive income is how the rich continue to build wealth. When you don’t have money, you can leverage your time and effort to create income streams that will grow into the future. As you accumulate money, you can deploy that money (and even combine it with your time) to generate more and more passive income.
Where can I invest to have passive income?
If you want to invest to generate passive income, dividend stocks and mutual funds are great ways to do it. You can also invest in debt instruments, like bonds.
If you want a safer approach, you can invest in a money market account or CD to get a risk-free return on your money.
What are the most popular passive income ideas?
There are lots of popular passive income ideas. The most popular include investing in the stock market, owning real estate, investing in a business, and even simply keeping your money in a high yield savings account. All of these approaches generate passive income, but they do require up front capital.
Does passive income really require “no work”?
This is a myth. Passive income always requires something up front: time or money. However, the idea that it becomes passive after you do the work is what’s alluring about it. For example, you spend 6 months writing a book, and you can enjoy the royalty income from your book for the rest of your life without any further work.
That’s not to say that doing more work won’t boost your income, but there is an element that requires nothing more to earn.
What are some of your favorite passive income ideas?
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.