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Difference Between Earned Income, Passive Income and Investment Income

Inside: Are you confused about the differences in types of income? This guide will help you understand earned income, passive income, and investment income, and their importance in achieving financial stability. Learn about the different tax implications for each type of income.

Understanding the differences in income types is a vital component of your financial literacy.

Earned, passive, and investment income all play a distinct role in your financial portfolio and tax liabilities.

These types of income are important to grow your wealth.

We will quickly answer the difference, provide examples, and understand the tax implications.

Are you confused about the differences in types of income? This guide will help you understand earned income, passive income, and investment income, and their importance in achieving financial stability. Learn about the different tax implications for each type of income.

This post may contain affiliate links, which helps us to continue providing relevant content and we receive a small commission at no cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read the full disclosure here.

What Is Earned Income?

Earned income is the money you actively work for. You trade your time for money.

This comes in the form of salaries and wages, where you receive a fixed amount of compensation for your role or job. It can also occur as hourly wages in part-time or contractual jobs.

Other forms include tips received in the service industry, bonuses for achieving specific goals, and self-employment income for freelancers, consultants, and small business owners. Any income that directly results from your personal efforts and active participation falls under earned income.

Typically, this is the most common form of income for most people.

Real Life Examples of Earned Income

  • A supermarket cashier receives an hourly wage.
  • A financial analyst is being paid for salary.
  • A freelance graphic designer receiving payment for a recently completed project.
  • A waitress at a restaurant receives a tip from a satisfied customer.
  • A real estate agent receives a commission on the sale of a house.
  • A sales manager at a car dealership receives a bonus for meeting sales targets.
  • A renowned author receiving an honorarium for delivering a keynote speech at a literature festival.
  • A hairstylist at a salon receives income from the haircuts and styling services provided.
  • A fitness coach generating income through personal training sessions.
  • Any side hustle income is typically earned income.

How Is Active Income Taxed?

Active income, also known as earned income, is subject to income tax at various rates as determined by the IRS’s current tax brackets. Seven tax brackets, ranging from 10% to 37%, are set for individual taxpayers. 1

The tax treatment is wholly dependent on where an individual’s income falls within these brackets. Your employer typically deducts this tax directly from your paycheck, reducing net take-home pay. It’s advisable to understand the tax implications of your earnings to avoid any surprises at tax time.

Use this tax calculator to know your taxes due.


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Role of Passive Income

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Passive income refers to money earned that is not directly linked to active efforts or time spent, often described as income one can earn while sleeping, vacationing, or indulging in hobbies.

This kind of income usually demands some sort of initial investment, which could be financial, a substantial time commitment, ingenuity, or a mixture of all. For many, they invested 10k to get started. Examples include writing a book, creating a course, investing in real estate, or running an affiliate marketing program.

Despite the upfront work often required, passive income potentially provides a steady additional revenue stream and financial independence, making it an attractive prospect for many.

Common Forms of Passive Income

  1. Dividends and interest income: Profits made from investments in stocks or bonds often involve receiving dividends or interest.
  2. Rental income: This is earned from renting out property you own, like houses or apartments as a real estate rental.
  3. Royalties: Income from allowing others to use your intellectual or creative properties, such as copyrighted books, music compositions, or patented inventions.
  4. Capital gains: Profits from buying assets like stocks or property for a certain amount and selling them at a higher value.
  5. Product or Course Sales: A small business owner receiving income from a product or sales that they created once and can resell.

Remember, there is still a level of effort involved in managing these streams, even though they are considered passive.

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How Is Passive Income Taxed?

The tax liability of passive income can vary based on how the income is generated. 2

  • In general, how passive income is taxed depends on how the income is earned. The key note is you are not trading your time for money.
  • Some forms of passive income are subject to self-employment taxes, while others may be taxed at your regular income tax rate. For instance, net rental income, a form of passive income, may attract unique taxation rules.

However, the applicable tax rules can be complex. Therefore, it’s highly recommended to seek advice from a licensed tax professional when managing taxes for passive income.

Insights into Investment Income

Image of the graphs, ways, and strategies on how to boost your income.

Investment income is a distinct financial category mainly composed of profits resulting from various investments. This pathway consists of the strategic acquisition of assets with a prime focus on their long-term appreciation or regular income, potentially in the form of dividends or interest.

Unlike earned income which often demands a substantial time investment, and unlike passive income which may need initial setup, investment income principally necessitates strategic decision-making and periodic performance reviews.

The common form is learning how to invest in the stock market or real estate.

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Examples of Investment Income And Strategies

  1. Dividends: Income received from owning shares of a company. A long-term investment strategy generally works best here.
  2. Bond Interest: Income paid from bonds for lending money to entities. Risk-averse investors often lean towards bonds for steady income.
  3. Capital Gains: Profits from selling investments at a higher price than their purchase. This needs a strategic understanding of market patterns.
  4. Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs): Income from investing in property-related assets. This strategy may provide steady cash flow with potential growth.
  5. P2P Lending: Returns from lending money through online platforms. The ability to scale and diversify this investment depends on your risk tolerance.
  6. Interest on savings accounts – Money earned on the balance held in your savings account.

All require a strategic approach, balancing risk and rewards, to drive income growth effectively.

Please note, that the successful generation of investment income often requires careful financial decision-making and strategic asset allocation.

Impact of Tax on Investment Income

Taxes on investment income include interest, dividends, and capital gains. However, the rate is usually lower than that for earned income.

  • Investment income is often taxed at a lower rate than earned income, however, the exact tax rates can depend on an individual’s tax bracket and the holding period of the investment.
  • In certain circumstances, Investment income can be subject to capital gains taxes, which apply if you sell a stock or other investment at a profit.
  • For some high-income individuals, Investment income may be subjected to the Net Investment Income Tax (NIIT). The NIIT is an additional 3.8% tax on certain investment income, such as interest, dividends, and capital gains.
  • Capital gains from the sale of assets (like real estate or a business) are often taxed at a lower rate compared to ordinary income.

Therefore, it’s important to consider these tax implications when shaping your investment strategies. Proper tax planning can help mitigate the impact of taxes on your investment income.

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Major Differences Between Active (Earned) and Passive Income

Image of calculator, drawn graph, dollar sign, and defining the major difference of earning and passive income.

The primary differences between active (earned) income and passive income revolve around how they are earned and managed.

Active (earned) income requires active, day-to-day involvement in work. For example, a full-time job where you’re on the clock. It’s often less scalable due to time and energy constraints. Earned income is also more prone to risks like job loss or health issues that prevent work. Furthermore, in most regions, earned income tends to fall in higher tax brackets.

Conversely, passive income demands initial setup and some regular review but not daily oversight. Examples include earning royalties from a book you wrote or income from renting properties. This is more scalable because you aren’t exchanging time for money in the same way.

Advantages of Diversifying Your Income Sources

Picture of the defining the advantages of sourcing the income.

#1 – Achieving Financial Goals with Flexibility

Diversifying your income source adds flexibility to your personal finance strategy, helping you achieve your financial goals effectively. An income diversified across active, passive, and investment income can cushion against financial downturns whilst providing multiple avenues for wealth generation.

An unexpected job loss, for example, maybe less devastating when you have additional income streams to bank on, such as rental income or dividends, providing you with the flexibility to navigate financial bumps. It also allows you to explore unique investment opportunities without undue stress.

Consequently, a multi-faceted income model can be a stepping stone towards financial freedom.

#2 – Stable Financial Standing with Multiple Income Streams

Having multiple income streams provides a buffer that can significantly enhance your financial stability. “You’ll catch more fish with multiple lines in the water,” says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate. 4

If one income source dwindles or disappears, other income streams continue to provide essential financial flow. This duplication shields you from the full brunt of economic or occupational changes, ensuring you maintain your standard of living while working towards your financial goals. Thus, a diverse income portfolio lays a foundation of financial resilience and prosperity.

#3 – Tax Benefits and Deductions: Navigating the Complexities

Income diversification presents an opportunity to mitigate taxes through various benefits and deductions. Depending on your jurisdiction, you may be eligible for specific tax breaks or deductions on passive or investment income. For instance, certain expenses related to generating rental income may be deductible, or long-term capital gains might be taxed at a lower rate.

It’s also noteworthy that certain types of income like qualified dividends or long-term capital gains can offer potential tax advantages over regular income. While tax laws can be complex, a basic understanding of these concepts could be beneficial to reduce your tax obligations.

That said, always consider seeking the help of a tax professional to navigate these intricacies, especially with an S corporation or with a schedule C.

FAQ About Different Types of Income

Earned income and passive income are two distinctly sourced income channels. Earned income is money received as a direct result of work performed or services provided. This includes wages, salaries, tips, and self-employment income.

Passive income, on the other hand, is money earned without active, daily participation. Although it may require initial efforts to set up, its subsequent generation entails minimal direct input. The key difference between the two lies in the level and timing of involvement required to generate them. Passive income gives you more time freedom.

Portfolio income and passive income are often misunderstood as the same. However, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) distinctly categorizes them. 3

While passive income generally refers to earnings gained without active involvement, portfolio income specifically relates to income derived from investments such as interest, dividends, or capital gains. Although both involve some lack of active participation, their origins, and tax implications are different.

No, investment income and earned income are not the same. The key difference lies in the source: one is actively earned by working, while the other is accrued through investing or letting money work for you.

The variance also manifests in their respective tax treatment by the IRS.

  • Earned income refers to wages, salaries, bonuses, and other income earned by providing a service or actively participating in a job or business.
  • On the other hand, investment income is generated from things like dividends, interest, and capital gains from the sale of financial assets such as stocks or bonds.

Diversification is the Key to Types of Income

Image of the magnifying glass and forms enlarging the incomes.

Choosing the right income channel—earned, passive, or investment income—depends heavily on your financial goals, resources, risk tolerance, and time commitment.

  • Earned income may provide stable, regular income, but requires active participation.
  • Passive income, while enticing with its offer of money while you sleep, requires initial effort and savvy management.
  • Investment income may promise attractive returns, yet it can involve significant risk and demand financial acumen.

Diversifying your income streams could provide economic stability, flexibility, and potential tax benefits.

One wise woman, Teri Ijeoma, once stated, “It is better to make more money than you know what to do with rather than worry about how the taxes work.”

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to financial prosperity, but understanding the nuances of various income types is a step in the right direction toward financial literacy and independence.

Now, let’s move to how to become financially independent.


  1. Internal Revenue Service. “IRS provides tax inflation adjustments for tax year 2024.” https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/irs-provides-tax-inflation-adjustments-for-tax-year-2024. Accessed November 20, 2023.
  2. Internal Revenue Service. “Passive Activity and At-Risk Rules.” https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p925.pdf. Accessed November 20, 2023.
  3. Internal Revenue Service. “Publication 550 (2022), Investment Income and Expenses.” https://www.irs.gov/publications/p550. Accessed November 20, 2023.
  4. Bankrate. “23 passive income ideas to help you make money in 2023.” https://www.bankrate.com/investing/passive-income-ideas/. Accessed November 20, 2023.

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