Michael Ellsberg is the author of The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think, and It’s Not Too Late, which is launching from Penguin/Portfolio in September. It’s a bootstrapper’s guide to investing in your own human capital at any age. Michael sends manifestos, recommendations, tips, and other exclusive content to his private email list, which you can join at www.ellsberg.com. Connect with him on Twitter @MichaelEllsberg and on Facebook.

Well, my first book project didn’t generate the interest I would have liked to, but another set of products suredid. In 2013, I launched a course on Udemy, which grew so fast, it became my biggest income earner of all time. That course resulted in a series of books (audio, digital, and print), a not-so-passive podcast, and even lead to my now full-time gig: SuperLearner Academy. Though I run the company full time, it is, for all intents and purposes, an automated business.
As a general rule, the passive activity loss rules are applied at the individual level. Although Internal Revenue Code Section 469 was enacted to discourage abusive tax shelters, its impact extends far beyond shelters to virtually every business or rental activity whether reported on Schedules C, F, or E, as well as to flow through income and losses from partnerships, S- Corporations, and trusts. Generally, the law does not apply to regular C-Corporations although it does have limited application to closely held corporations.
Now, how do you do it? Building a passive income will require some work up front, but choosing a method that plays to your strengths will yield the most success, and it can even become a fun hobby! Have an aptitude for photography? License your photos to stock photography websites. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to invest? Learn how with a robo-advisor. No matter what your strengths are, we’ve gathered 35 ideas for different ways you can generate passive income and build your wealth.

Sam…just read this article and I want to say that this is the best posting on passive income I have ever read…in a blog, article, or book. Thanks for making a difference and being an inspiration as to how it can all be accomplished. One of the great benefits of the internet is that people are willing to share their stories and experiences with each other online. If we had this when I was working professionally (20-40 years ago), it would have saved me from making some rather poor financial decisions that affected my retirement income. In a way, the internet is making up for the loss of financial security in the loss of The Defined Benefit Plan for retirement. Bravo!
That depends what you call a “good” lifestyle. Could I rent yachts and get bottle service every weekend living off my passive income? No way. Could I travel 10–15 weeks a year and live in central Tel Aviv with money to spare? Definitely. I was able to earn low 6 figures completely passively. But if you want to make boatloads of money, and step up to the 7-figure territory, then yes, you’re going to need a combination. If, however, you want time to pursue your passions and have a moderate amount of fun, you can definitely sustain yourself with passive income.

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.
Question: You mention receiving $200k of passive income a year, but your chart shows half of that coming from real estate holdings, and reading between the lines it appears that you hold mortgages against those holdings. Then you conclude that $200k/yr of passive income should be enough to live comfortably anywhere in the world. So are you subtracting your real estate expenses (taxes, insurance, mortgage payments, maintenance, remote property management company fees, etc.) when you report your passive income from those properties? Really I think it’s the net (after taxes and everything) that tells us what is left over to “spend” on living, right? When I set up my spreadsheet to retire early at age 47, I calculated the after-tax income I would need to live. Then I compared that to my income streams (estimating tax on the taxable income streams) to measure the surplus/shortfall. Also some good advice from GoCurryCracker: If you can minimize your taxes so you’re in the 15% tax bracket, you can possibly receive tax-free long term capital gains. I agree with your philosophy that time is more important than money as we age. I am not sure I agree with a philosophy that is fixated on needing such a large income, and would rather minimize taxes if it’s all the same on the happiness meter. Furthermore, having 20 plus income sources in the name of diversification adds stress and requires more management (TIME!). I think this is fine for those of us while young, as we have the energy to work hard. But as time becomes more important, the extra headache of managing, planning, and buying/selling our assets becomes a resented hindrance on par with the resentment we felt when working for an employer and fighting traffic each day to go to a job we hated. Every thing we own in actuality owns us, by virtue of its demands on our time and affections, and that includes investments. It also includes our home, and is a good reason for downsizing. As long as we have food on our table, a roof over our heads, and clothes on our bodies, what more do we need? I think we need to consider freeing ourselves from the weight of the chains of managing too many ventures. Personally, I plan on investing in no more than 5 simultaneous ventures ever, with the exception of some IRAs that I just plan to let sit for the next 20 years (and therefore no thought or anxiety required).
Do you want to rent commercial or residential properties? I started my professional career as a commercial RE agent before starting residential investing. Buying and renting out commercial space like office, industrial and retail will generally yield a lower return but will also involve far fewer headaches. The drawback to commercial space is that it costs much more to buy one property.
There is a specific tax definition of passive income, known as “passive activity” to the Internal Revenue Service. Passive income is any income you make without actively working or are materially involved. The IRS defines it as any rental activity or any business in which the taxpayer does not “materially participate.” Nonpassive activities, or active activities, are businesses in which the taxpayer works on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis.
It is very important to understand that contacting a “professional” to learn how to do this only results in them trying to sell me crap properties (whether high end or low end). I’ve tried contacting realtors out of state, and they attempt to sell me crap or someone else’s problem. No one has a vested interest in actually helping someone or teaching them about how to get an out of state rental. very frustrating. I could go out tomorrow and buy a rental in my city, but that is the last place I want to own one. Anyone? Are there an real people on here?
I wish I had more time to put into real estate. Given the run up since 2012, I may even be interested in selling my condo that I currently rent out. I need to get it appraised to really see what it’s worth, but I think conservatively it’s gone up ~50%, although rent is probably only up ~10% or so. I am bullish on rents going up in the future… mostly in line with inflation, or perhaps even slightly faster due to constricted credit and personal income growth which should provide a solid supply of renters. At this point, I just don’t want to manage the property. I’ll probably look into a property manager as my time is likely worth turning it into a nearly passive investment.

1. The batting cage idea is very risky. I’ve seen many of them close over the years and it is not anything close to passive income if you want to keep the business going. You have to continually promote it and target youth leagues, coaches, schools etc to catch all of the new players who grow up and want to play. I’ve played at probably 8 batting cages over the years and 7 of them closed.
However, until we get another reset in valuations (I’m calculating a 40% to 50% correction is justified ), I’ve moved largely to the sidelines. Beginning in July 2013, I began slowly reducing equity exposure and am now sitting firm at 40% with the balance in various forms of 5 yr cd’s and short duration bonds. This is down from over 60% when I ramped up to take advantage of the March 2009 lows.

Everything passive first takes active energy. The time to put in the effort is when we are young and not ravaged by disease or burdened by family obligations. I remember being able to snowboard from 9am until 4pm every day for a year. Now, I’m lucky to last from 11am until 2pm without wanting to go to the hot tub and drink a bucket full of beer! If we can appreciate how lucky we are when we are young, we’ll be able to maximize our vitality and live financially freer when we are older.


When I started building my architecture-related business in 2008, I made my first dollar through advertising. I’d spent a lot of time and money building the site and getting traffic. Then one day I threw an ad on the site one day, and I made $1.18. Sure, I could find that much under my couch cushions—but that’s not the point! The point is that I was able to build something online, put an ad up, and make money without having to do anything. I learned it was possible, and it motivated me to move forward.
I think that rental real estate is not perfectly passive income. Landlords need to make a lot not only in order to list the property, but also to keep reliable tenants. So, I would say that it could a challenging job, for people, who have rental real estate but not a source of passive income. Maintenance and management costs that should to be also considered.
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.
As a private lender, you can lend to anyone in your social circle. For example, many home rehabbers need access to a source of capital they can tap into very quickly in order to fund the initial purchase of their properties. You can partner with a rehabber who uses your capital for a short-term in exchange for an interest rate that is mutually agreed upon.
My esteemed marketing colleagues initially balked at the idea of creating products that generate royalties, so I can understand how creating something from nothing might be daunting for those who aren’t even in creative roles. However, realize there is this enormous world out there of photographers, bloggers, artists, and podcasters who are making a passive income thanks to the Internet.
I do remember you mentioning that & how it was your ticket to exit softly and give you time to build the passive income side. Most likely when I do exit it will either be through a sale of the business which would come along with a employment contract or if a worthy successor(s) can take it over, then the business is just another annuity throwing off income. Anyway, I’d enjoy writing a guest article after I survive the next few weeks of work and weddings.
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!
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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