The Truth About Active Income vs. Passive Income
Oh yes, there is a difference. More than you know.
Want more articles like this?
Create an account today to get BiggerPocket's best blog articles delivered to your inboxSign up for free
You may already know there is a difference and you may know generally what that difference is, but it’s likely you don’t truly grasp the implications of those differences. For the record, there is nothing wrong with either of them. But if you want to maximize your returns down the road, you do want to make sure you really do have a solid feel for how these two differ.
Definitions: Active vs. Passive Income
Using Investopedia, which should be in every investor’s browser favorites, the definitions of active income and passive income are as follows:
Active Income: Income for which services have been performed. This includes wages, tips, salaries, commissions and income from businesses in which there is material participation.
Passive Income: Earnings an individual derives from a rental property, limited partnership or other enterprise in which he or she is not actively involved.
Investopedia goes on to explain that passive income does not include earnings from “active business participation”. To go a less formal route on defining these two terms I’ll tell you my own interpretations of them:
Active income means you are doing something in order to receive that income. Some kind of work. Some kind of effort. You are not hands-off. You have to exert some kind of energy and time towards earning that income. Passive income means you are earning regular income with little to no effort required to keep it coming. You are for the most part hands-off.
Source of Income vs. Your Goals
Why does it matter which one you are earning if it’s all income?
Oh it matters. It matters because accomplishing your goals depends on understanding these terms very clearly. What is the most common reason investors give as to why they are getting into real estate investing or why they are already in it? Financial freedom. Those who want financial freedom very clearly define that goal as being able to use real estate as a vehicle to eventually break loose of their current career and not have to work for their income. Okay, cool, a goal! And an amazing goal at that. Okay, so financial freedom, let’s talk about that.
In theory, and keeping it at the highest most basic level, financial freedom means you have to do no work in order to receive income. So once you are financially free, you no longer have to worry about money. What does that look like to you? Maybe you are like me and plan to do a lot of traveling, take up new hobbies, take random college courses to learn new things (for fun, not because I have to), spend epic amounts of time snowboarding and playing in the woods, and as always, sleeping in. Or maybe you are the polar opposite and plan to wake up early and hang out on your couch all day and watch TV.
There is a term both of these plans fall under. It’s called “lifestyle design”. You get to design your life exactly the way you want it.
Isn’t that the point of financial freedom?
If you don’t care about lifestyle design, you can just stay at your current job, right? With financial freedom, you can do whatever you want. You can actually start forming lifestyle design before you are financially free too, just like I have. Even though I spend the majority of my time working on my company, I have positioned myself to be completely on my own schedule, I work whenever I want to for as much or as little time as I want, I sleep in most days, I live at the beach, I can stop working in the middle of the day to go have lunch with a friend, go to the gym, walk the dogs or, shoot, stop working completely for the day and do whatever I want instead! Hiking, snowboarding, surfing, margaritas, whatever.
I wanted these freedoms so I began pursuing a means to have those, which in my case ended up being starting my own company that I could work from anywhere and with no deadlines whatsoever (although the no deadline thing does make things hard sometimes). The income from that company is planned to continue buying more passive income investments so eventually I hit total financial freedom where I can keep living my current lifestyle minus the work part. All of this is called “lifestyle design.”
So let me recap the circle I just made here:
Investing – leads to – Financial Freedom – leads to – Lifestyle Design
Are you totally convinced that I have completely diverged from talking about active vs. passive income? I don’t blame you. I would have forgotten about those by now too. But let’s bring them back now. Ok, how do those relate to lifestyle design? Well, I’m assuming we have established that your personal lifestyle design does not involve working, correct? Do you remember which kind of income requires you to work for it? Active income. So then for complete lifestyle design, do you want to have to rely on any active income? No. You only want passive income because passive income doesn’t require much, if any, work on your part. Then you are free to travel or play or watch TV all you want.
Now you know you don’t want to deal with any active income, but what investing methods are considered active?
Active vs. Passive Investment Methods
A couple weeks ago I wrote an article that broke out the very broad categories of real estate investing that someone can get involved with. (See: Which Real Estate Investing Route Should You Go?). Of these categories, the split goes 50/50 for which ones produce active income and which produce passive income.
Active Income Investments: Flipping and wholesaling. You have to do work in order to see money from these. You have to be hands-on. Note: I do still stand by my argument that wholesaling is not actually an investment at all, but for the sake of so many people thinking it is, I am including it. Another note: It is possible, if you are really slick and good, that you could be decently hands-off for a flip. But that is long down the road of being an advanced flipper so for now, I’m leaving it here.
Passive Income Investments: Rental properties and paper/notes. If done correctly, both of these will provide you with earnings regardless of whether you are hands-on or off.
The Real Difference
Active income investing is, while it still may be an actual investment, a job. It is a J-O-B. So many people don’t see it like that, but that is what it is. Flipping houses is a job. Wholesaling is most definitely a job. Heck, landlording a rental property is a job. I say it again- a J-O-B.
This is important to understand this because it is a difference of how you spend your time. No-joke big-time investors make money in their sleep without putting in any effort because they invest in passive income investments. If you are putting in effort, while you might be making bank and doing great at it, you are working. You are making a lot of income because you are rocking out a J-O-B. The no-joke big-time investors, if you’ll notice, also put in a lot of effort but their effort is not on what is currently making them income, it is on finding the next thing that will provide them more income!
If you like the “job” of wholesaling or flipping or landlording, or whatever it is you may be doing actively to earn income, rock on with it. Especially if you are using the income from that job to buy passive investments with, which is how one really becomes successful- find ways to fund buying passive investments that will lead you towards financial freedom. On that note too though, you can work any job or build a business to earn income that you can use to invest in passive investments. It doesn’t have to be flipping or wholesaling or landlording, albeit you do learn a lot about investing working those jobs, but it can be any job you want totally outside of real estate if you want it to be. Real estate is just a great way to earn some fat cash, which is why so many people stick with it. And if you do that, you are awesome still, as long as you realize you are working a job.
It all comes down to your goals. There is nothing wrong with flipping, wholesaling or landlording, as long as you are understanding of the fact, and okay with the fact, that you are working for your money. I personally have no desire to work in those capacities, so I stick with passive income investments. I did, however, start a business in order to fund those investments. I started a business in lieu of using flipping or wholesaling to earn capital. You can do whatever you want, but at least be clear on what it is you are actually doing, i.e. working for your money versus investing your money.
Well, let’s have it. Bring on your thoughts.