Most workers earn income by performing tasks and receiving compensation from an employer or a client paying for services. Earned income is compensation made through active work that results in an immediate payoff. Residual income, also known as passive income or unearned income is money you receive periodically that does not require constant active effort. Passive income has several notable advantages and disadvantages with respect to earned income.
Income without Continued Effort
One of the primary benefits of residual income is that it takes little continued effort to maintain. Passive income includes things like royalties received for creating an intellectual property such as a book, advertisement payments received for Internet traffic on websites or content you create, dividends paid on stocks you hold and rent payments. Creating residual income often takes a considerable amount of initial effort, such as writing a book or article, creating a website, buying a building and renting it out or researching and purchasing dividend-paying stocks, but after the initial effort, you receive income over time with little or no additional effort. This can allow you to pursue other opportunities while continuing to earn income based on past efforts.
One of the disadvantages of residual income is that income received for initial efforts or investments is not immediately received. For example, if you spend a month creating a new website to generate advertisement revenue, you might only generate $100 a month in passive income. Had you spent that month creating a website for a company that was paying you, you might have hundreds or thousands of dollars upfront that you could use to pay for immediate expenses and purchases. If you don't have an immediate financial need, delayed income could be an advantage.
Another drawback of residual income is that future income payments are often not guaranteed. If you spend a month building a website to generate residual advertisement income, the actual amount of income you make can fluctuate over time and it may fall if the traffic to your site declines over time. Similarly, companies can slash their dividends and tenants can move out of rental units, which can decrease passive income. With earned income, you get a certain amount for your services up front so you don't have to worry about future earnings.
Unearned Income and Dependents
Special tax rules apply to dependents that have unearned income. The IRS states that a dependent with unearned income of $950 or more is required to file an income tax return. In contrast, dependents with earned income do not have to file tax returns unless earned income is $5,700 or more.