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When I first learned of passive income, I became obsessed with finding the right mix of passive income ideas that would allow me to cover my expenses. That lead me to create this blog, and to pursue many of the ideas I mention below.
I’m now at a point where I have multiple passive income streams that more than support my family.
What Exactly is Passive Income?
There are multiple definitions of passive income, commonly referred to as residual income. The IRS has its own definition for tax purposes. This article defines passive income as:
Consistent income that requires little to no effort to maintain.
There are dozens of ways to generate this sort moof consistent income, both large and small. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll categorize different passive income types into three categories:
- Passive income apps and websites — You won’t be able to quit your day job with these passive income apps and websites, but if you’re strategic in the ones you sign up for, it’s possible to earn some extra money with very little work.
- Passive income businesses — A passive income business allows you to get paid over and over again from the work you’ve done once. In this section, you’ll learn about business ideas (that you can launch for cheap or free) that generate cash flow without active involvement from you.
- Passive income investments — You don’t need to be a millionaire to take advantage of passive income investments. In this section, learn which investments are best for generating regular cash flow, so you can make your money work for you.
Years ago, real estate investing topped any list of passive income strategies. Today, there are passive income ideas that require less time, less money, and less risk. It’s also worth noting that while I’ve heard stories of individuals creating viable passive income sources through network marketing (a.k.a. MLM), the dropout rates of most MLM programs make that avenue impossible to recommend.
With that said, here are 21 legit ways you can invest either time or money today and get paid over and over again in the future.
Best Passive Income Apps and Websites
Passive income apps and websites allow you to easily experience what it’s like earning money over and over again for the work you did up front.
You won’t earn a living with these recommended apps and websites; some people pull in somewhere in the range of a few hundred dollars per year. But that’s not a bad return considering you invest no money and very little of your time.
Interested? Here’s our shortlist of the best passive income apps and websites to sign up for.
#1 . Nielsen Computer & Mobile Panel App
Nielsen Holdings, the large publicly-traded market research company known for publishing TV viewership ratings, will pay you to download an app. You just download the Nielsen Computer & Mobile Panel App on your phone and/or computer, and then you can get paid up to $50 a year for each eligible device the app is installed on. So, if you have four devices in your household, that’s up to $200 a year.
You’re also then automatically entered into Nielsen’s many sweepstakes. Prizes include vacations and the latest tech. Plus, you’re eligible for monthly $10,000 sweepstakes.
If you’re interested, check out our complete review of the Nielsen Computer & Mobile Panel.
#2 . Make Money With What You’re Already Doing
Another quick idea that can earn you passive income is to sign up for Swagbucks. Swagbucks is one of the largest reward sites around, now having paid out over $300 million in rewards.
There are dozens of ways to make money from Swagbucks. The most common are watching videos, using coupons, and shopping online.
The two most passive ways to earn money on Swagbucks are:
- Change your search engine to Swagbucks search. This allows you to earn a trickle of income every time you search for something online. Once you set up the search engine, you won’t even realize it’s there. Those who work at a computer and search often can earn $10 or so per month.
- Link a card to Swagbucks Local. When you link a debit or credit card to Swagbucks Local, you’ll automatically earn points (which are redeemable for gift cards) when you shop at participating local retailers.
#3. Earn Money Downloading an App
MobileXpression is a market research company that pays you for downloading an app. Similar to the Nielsen Computer & Mobile Panel App, you then earn cash, gift cards, and prizes for keeping the app installed.
After MobileExpression is installed for a week, you’ll get a $5 Amazon gift card. You’ll then get to play their rewards game, which has all sorts of prizes you can win (from another Amazon gift card to an iPad). What’s great is that everyone wins something.
MobileExpression doesn’t monitor phone calls or personal information. What they’re looking for is the web pages you use, the links you access, and the activities you do on your phone (e.g., app usage, time on your phone, etc.).
You can also uninstall the app at any time.
#4. Find Out if Stores Owe You a Refund
When the price of something you bought online drops, Capital One Shopping helps you get your money back.
Here’s how it works:
- Sign up for the service.
- Capital One Shopping then scans your inbox for online shopping receipts and shipping confirmations.
- Once it discovers that something you bought from an eligible retailer has dropped in price, it helps you get a refund for the difference.
What’s great about Capital One Shopping is that you keep 100% of the savings. Plus, the service also offers other great money-saving features, like points for shopping at select retailers. And you don’t have to be a Capital One account holder to join.
#5. Maximize Your Cash Back
If you’re using a credit card for your purchases, it makes sense to maximize your cash back.
Cash back rewards are like free money. Say you spend $50,000 a year on your credit cards. Going from an average of 1% to 2% cash back allows you to earn $500 more in rewards every year (of course, only if you pay off your balance in full each month).
Considering that some of the top cash back cards offer up to 5% back, this is doable.
My favorite two-card combination for earning cash back is:
- Chase Freedom Unlimited – Earn 1.5% cash back on every purchase.
- Chase Freedom – Earn 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories (and 1% on everything else).
I’ll then use the Chase Freedom when I’m spending within a bonus category. These change every quarter; below is a look at the rotating categories for 2019.
I’ll then use the Chase Freedom Unlimited for any purchases outside of a bonus category. On average, it’s not hard to earn well above 2% cash back with this simple strategy.
Advanced Cash Back Tip: If you have a premium Chase credit card, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you can transfer points you earn with the Freedom and Freedom Unlimited to your premium card. The benefit here is that your points are worth more after you transfer them.
For example, when booking travel through Chase with a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you get 50% more value.
As such, when you spend within a bonus category using your Chase Freedom card, you’re actually earning 7.5% cash back when you redeem the points for travel.
#6. Try This Passive Savings App
The Trim app is really more of a passive savings opportunity than a passive income idea. However, money in the bank is money in the bank, so this is an app you don’t want to miss.
How does Trim save you money passively? Check out this text message I got from Trim the other day:
With no involvement from me at all, Trim negotiated a discount on my Comcast bill as compensation for a power outage.
All you do is sign up and connect an account, and then their robot will message you ways you can save.
For some of these tasks, the robot assistant will handle the whole transaction, such as negotiating your bill or canceling a subscription.
The average person saves $30 per bill, and Trim now saves its users a total of over $1 million per month.
#7. Card-Linked Reward Programs
There are a number of card-linked reward programs that, similar to Swagbucks Local (as mentioned above), allow you to earn passive income by linking a credit or debit card and then going about your business as usual.
Most of these programs run on the same back-end platform (which is called Empry), so it’s not always possible to double dip your rewards with the same card.
If you’d like to go the extra mile, what you’ll want to do is link one credit card per app, which maximizes both cash back on the credit card and cash back on the app.
For example, Acorns has a card-linked loyalty program that gives you 1.8% cash back on Airbnb purchases. You’ll then want to link your credit card that offers the most cash back for travel expenses.
At a bare minimum, you should sign up for at least one of these apps. You’ll earn a nice gift card or two each year.
- Acorns — Best known as a micro-investing app, Acorns has a feature called Found Money which gives you cash back at participating retailers.
- ShopKick — Best known for offering rewards to shop at local retailers, including grocery stores.
Best Passive Income Businesses to Start
A passive income business allows you to get paid over and over again for the work you did once. This type of business is growing in popularity, thanks in part to the internet. Online businesses make it easy to automate both the marketing of a product and the actual transaction.
Examples of passive income business, which are both easy to start and provide a lot of upsides, include the options listed below. You can learn more these options and others — include how to automate them so they’re truly passive — in our dedicate guide to passive income business ideas.
There are a number of ways you can earn passive income through blogging. One of my favorites is through SEO or search engine optimization. Take one of the more popular posts on The Ways To Wealth (The Best Investing Books of All Time) as an example.
That post is three years old, but is now getting hits for the search term “Best Investing Books.” When someone visits that page and buys one of those books from Amazon, this site generates a commission on the entire order. (In other words, not just the value of the book.)
That page also generates email subscriptions. When I publish a new post, I can send it out to the email list to increase traffic.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg for ways to make passive income from blogging. There’s also advertising, YouTube channels, affiliate marketing, membership sites, selling products, and more.
That’s why starting your own website is a phenomenal passive income option. There are literally dozens of revenue streams, and many that offer recurring revenue.
If you’re interested in starting a blog, sign up for my free 14-lesson email course titled “How to Make Your First $1,000 Blogging.”
In this 100% free guide, you’ll learn about:
- Reasons you should (or shouldn’t) start a blog
- How to determine what to blog about
- An insanely simple guide to launching a blog
- How to make your blog a profitable blog that matters
- Top traffic tips
- Getting the maximum results in minimum time
- Trusted free blogging resources
Just enter your email address below to get the course sent directly to your inbox.
#9. Manage Social Media for Small Businesses
One side hustle I started in the past was managing social media for local businesses.
One of the things I really enjoyed, and which made the work a lot less stressful, was that my clients were on retainer.
Furthermore, a lot of the work I did was up-front. Then, I would put in one or two hours a week afterward.
It wasn’t 100% passive, but it sure was close.
I know social media managers who have five or so clients, each paying them $1,000 to $2,000 every month. And after the work is done to get their campaigns set up, they work only a few hours per week on each client.
If you’re interested, Bobby Hoyt has a course that will teach you all about the most lucrative side of social media management: paid campaigns.
Businesses run paid campaigns to drive traffic to their websites and (hopefully) increase their sales volume. If you know how to target the right people and design ads that work, you can dramatically impact your clients’ bottom line — and they’ll pay you a lot of money for your efforts.
Bobby’s course only opens up a few times each year, and there’s a waiting list. Sign up to get your name on the list and guarantee yourself a spot.
#10. Start an Online Course
Platforms like Udemy, Teachable, and Skillshare are making it easier than ever to launch and sell an online course.
One of my favorite stories I’ve heard from the past year is that of Teresa Greenway from the book Side Hustle School by Chris Guillebeau.
Greenway, who was on food stamps while taking care of her autistic son full-time, launched an online course all about baking sourdough bread. In the first two years of launching her course, she earned $86,000 on Udemy.
If you’re interested in making money from online courses, check out this free resource: $58,150 in 5 Months: How to Build a Lifestyle Business Step-by-Step (Emails, Tools, Everything).
At the link above, entrepreneur Nat Eliason goes through everything you need to know about how to turn your knowledge and expertise into a profitable enterprise.
#11. License a Business Idea
If you have an idea to enhance a product or service, you can get paid to license that idea.
I see this a lot on Shark Tank, where Kevin O’Leary loves to buy a large stake in a company and then enter a licensing agreement with the entrepreneur. O’Leary sells it hard for the fact that the entrepreneur can sit back and collect royalties for every unit that sells.
One big Shark Tank winner in O’Leary’s portfolio is Groovebook, a photo-printing app/subscription service that was created by Brian and Julie Whiteman. In the Tank, O’Leary and Mark Cuban invested $150,000 total for 80% of licensing rights. The company later sold to Shutterfly for $14.5 million.
“The deal was only 18 months old” at the time of the sale, O’Leary says. “The co-founders became millionaires. That’s a great outcome.”
There’s a great book on the topic: One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work. (I read it after it was recommended by Tim Ferriss.)
If you ever dreamed of being an inventor, grab the book from Amazon or your local library.
#12. Create Digital Assets
There are a number of opportunities for creating digital assets (e-books, videos, photos, graphics, etc.) and selling them online. What’s nice about this concept is that if you get on the right selling platform, the marketing can take care of itself. For example, if you self-publish an e-book on Amazon Kindle that gets good reviews, those reviews will generate more and more sales.
Other passive income opportunities worth looking into are:
- Graphics — Etsy, the largest creator marketplace online (with over $3 billion in annual sales), allows users to sell digital downloads. Invitations, patterns, scrapbooking designs, printable artwork, and coloring pages are some of the more popular niches. Check out our guide to making money on Etsy to learn more.
- Stock Photography — You can list your photos on sites like Shutterstock that content creators can use for commercial purposes.
- T-Shirts — One great shirt design can sell hundreds and hundreds of units without any marketing at all.
- Video Photography — Just as photos can be sold, one of the faster-growing niches is stock videos.
If you have a spare room or home, consider listing it on Airbnb,
There is definitely some hard work in the near-term, as you’ll need to clean up your place, take pictures, and write a solid description. Long-term, however, the work declines — especially if you have a great rating (which attracts better customers).
Use the Airbnb rental calculator to see how much you can expect to earn as an Airbnb host.
Just as Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry, Turo is now disrupting the car rental industry.
With Turo, you can now rent out your car to others on an hourly or daily basis. Insurance is included, drivers are screened, and signing up is free.
#15. Drop Shipping with Shopify
Want to get into the fast-growing e-commerce industry — selling physical products with your own online store —but don’t know what to sell or how to get started?
Consider starting a drop shipping company.
Drop shipping is a fulfillment method where you don’t have inventory of your own. Instead, it’s on demand. So, whenever you sell a product, you purchase it instantly from the supplier, who then ships it directly to the customer.
The big advantage is that you don’t have to invest in thousands of dollars worth of inventory to sell something you’re not sure how to sell. Plus, you never see or touch the product. So, it’s a business you can run from literally anywhere.
If you’re interested in learning more, Shopify has a free how to start a profitable drop shipping store webinar.
#16. Affiliate Marketing
The final passive income business idea on this list is affiliate marketing. Here, you’re selling others’ products and services in exchange for a percentage of the sale (or a set fee).
Many affiliate programs are even recurring, so you can get paid each month as long as that person continues to be a customer.
If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend popular blogger Michelle’s course: Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. Michelle makes over $50,000 per month from affiliate marketing and was just featured on Oprah’s website.
Best Passive Income Investments
For many, the end goal of personal finance is to reach financial independence — the point where one’s income from their investment portfolio is enough to cover their expenses for the remainder of their life.
Achieving a milestone like financial independence (also known as financial freedom) does take time. Yet, with the right investment strategy, you can get there sooner rather than later.
The good news is that investing can, and in my mind should, be a very passive activity. It took me a few years to learn that investing isn’t about picking stocks and keeping up with financial news; instead, it’s about picking the right mix of investments (i.e., asset allocation) upfront, combined with the proper asset location (e.g., 401(k), IRA, taxable account, etc.) to minimize your taxes, that helps you achieve your investment goals.
In our case, the goal is producing a consistent income source. For that, here are the best investments to consider.
#17. Make Your 401(k) Passive
A 401(k) with an employer match is one of the highest-returning investments available today. (The only investment that comes close is paying off high-interest debt.)
So, if you’re going to start investing, whether you want passive income or appreciation, your 401(k) is hard to beat.
One thing to make sure of, however, is that you do choose the right asset allocation. One tool that can help you do just that is Blooom.
What I like most about Blooom is that it gives you a free analysis of your 401(k) investments that can be boiled down to one simple image.
Here’s what mine looks like:
This initial checkup is available at no cost and can be done in just a few minutes.
If you then want Blooom to manage your 401(k), they’ll do so for just $10 a month (with your first month free).
A 401(k) can be a great source of passive income in the future. Choosing the optimal mix of investments, however, is the difference for some between retiring early and working later than they’d like.
Read our in-depth review of Blooom to learn more.
#18. Invest in Crowdfunded Real Estate
Real estate is one of the primary ways the wealthy have made money for decades. Yet due to the risk, time, and upfront cost associated with traditional real estate (like rental properties) it was not a suitable investment for most people.
But that’s no longer the case.
With real estate crowdfunding, the attractive returns many have experienced investing in real estate are now available to everyday people.
If you’ve ever heard of REITs (real estate investment trusts), the concept of crowdfunded real estate is very similar. The main difference is that with real estate crowdfunding, you actually get to see and invest in specific assets. With a REIT, the corporation is picking the assets and you’re investing in the corporation (not the real estate itself).
One of the largest crowdfunded real estate sites is Fundrise. With Fundrise you can get started with a minimum investment of $500.
I wrote an in-depth review of Fundrise, which you can read here. What’s especially great about Fundrise — aside from the priceless benefit of not having to manage renters — is that you see exactly what you’re investing in. So, if it’s an apartment complex in Chicago, you see the exact property.
As Fundrise has strict standards for the types of properties on its platform, you’ll start to learn why that property was attractive in the first place. This is a great way to learn the ins-and-outs of real estate investing, with less risk than buying a property on your own.
If you’re not satisfied with your investment for any reason within the first 90 days, Fundrise will buy back your investment at the original price.
#19. Offer Peer-to-Peer Lending
I’m not a huge fan of peer-to-peer lending platforms like Lending Club and Prosper. I prefer when an investment is backed by an asset, such as businesses assets or, in the case of real estate investing, the building itself.
Nonetheless, peer-to-peer lending can offer some diversification in one’s portfolio, and returns well above what you’d get on a savings account.
So, instead of putting a significant amount of savings in the platform, you should view it as a way to diversify five to 10% of your portfolio.
#20. Switch to a High-Yield Savings Account
If you’re paying fees to a bank, or earning next-to-nothing on your savings, you need a new bank account.
Head over to Fiona, which is a search engine that helps you find the bank that pays the highest interest rate in your area.
When I did this, I found a bank that paid 22X the national average on their savings accounts! Getting a bump in your savings is a low-risk, low-effort way to generate some extra passive income.
Learn how the site works in my Fiona review.
#21. Invest in Stocks
One thing you’ll learn when you study the stock market is that many stocks pay out about 2% of their total value each year in dividends.
In 2014, the last time the IRS reported this number, it was $254.7 billion! If you’re not familiar with the concept behind dividends, it can be summed up as a portion of a company’s profits that are paid to shareholders in cash.
So, just by being a shareholder of a stock, the company will pay you.
However, choosing the right individual stocks, exchange-traded funds, or mutual funds can get risky.
That’s why instead of buying dividend stocks, I prefer to own the entire stock market and take advantage of both dividends and appreciation.
To quote Warren Buffett,
“Over the years, I’ve often been asked for investment advice, and in the process of answering, I’ve learned a good deal about human behavior. My regular recommendation has been a low-cost S&P 500 index fund.”
If you’re looking to get started investing, I highly recommend you check out the robo-advisor Betterment.
Here’s what I like about Betterment (and why I invest my own money on the platform):
- They offer a low-cost index fund approach to investing.
- Their fees start at just .25% (which is way below industry average).
- Their no-cost, value-added services like automatic-tax loss harvesting and automatic rebalancing make it a truly hands-off approach.
- You can start investing on Betterment with just $1.
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