The world of passive income is often seen as a gateway to financial freedom, but understanding the taxation rules associated with this type of earnings is crucial for thriving in this territory.

In this blog, we’ll demystify the concept of passive income and its tax implications while debunking some common misconceptions surrounding it. Get ready to journey through rental properties, dividends, capital gains, and more as we provide you with valuable insights on optimizing your tax strategies for passive income streams.

What passive income is not taxed?

Key Takeaways

  • Passive income refers to earnings generated from sources that do not require a person’s active involvement or participation, and while it is still taxable, it can sometimes be taxed differently than active income like wages.
  • Ordinary tax rates apply to most types of passive income, but certain forms of passive income may qualify for preferential long-term capital gains tax rates. The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) may also apply in some cases.
  • Rental real estate owners can take advantage of depreciation deductions and other credits to reduce their tax liability on passive income. It’s important to consult with a tax professional to ensure you’re taking advantage of all available options.

Passive Income: Definition And Taxability

Passive income refers to any earnings generated from a rental property, limited partnership, or other enterprise in which the recipient is not actively involved, and while it is still taxable, it can sometimes be taxed differently than active income like wages.

What Is Passive Income?

Passive income refers to earnings generated from sources that do not require a person’s active involvement or participation. This type of income is often seen as an attractive way to build wealth and diversify one’s financial portfolio, as it allows individuals to earn money without dedicating significant time and effort.

Common examples of passive income include rental property income, dividends from stocks, interest from savings accounts, royalties from creative works, and capital gains realized through the sale of investments.

As opposed to active income – such as wages earned through employment – passive income streams generally require minimal ongoing work once they are established.

Examples Of Passive Income

Passive income can come from a variety of sources including:

– Rental income from real estate

– Dividends from stocks and mutual funds

– Capital gains from investments like stocks, bonds, and real estate

– Royalties from intellectual property such as books, music, or patents

– Income from peer-to-peer lending platforms

– Earnings from a limited partnership or other passive business investment

– Interest on savings accounts, CDs, and other interest-bearing investments

It’s important to note that not all types of passive income are taxed the same way and may have different deductions or credits available. Additionally, some passive income may be subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

Is Passive Income Taxable?

Passive income is indeed taxable, but it can be taxed differently than active income like wages. Unlike wages, passive income is not subject to FICA taxes. Certain types of passive income receive the same treatment as long-term capital gains and are taxed at a lower rate.

However, it’s important to note that all forms of passive income are subject to taxation and should be reported on an individual’s tax return. For example, rental real estate generates passive income that can be sheltered by depreciation and may not be subject to high effective tax rates.

Types Of Passive Income

Passive income can come from various sources, including rental income from real estate properties, dividend income from stocks and mutual funds, capital gains on investments such as the sale of a stock or property, and royalties earned from patents or copyrights.

Rental Income

Rental income is one of the most common forms of passive income. It refers to the money earned from renting out a property to tenants, such as apartment buildings or single-family homes.

Rental income is taxable, but there are ways to offset the tax burden by taking advantage of deductions and depreciation. For instance, landlords can deduct expenses such as mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance premiums, repairs, and maintenance costs from their rental income.

Additionally, they can use depreciation to write off the cost of the property over time.

Dividend Income

Dividend income is another example of passive income, and it refers to the payments made by a corporation or other entity to its shareholders. This type of income is taxed at different rates depending on the length of time you’ve held onto the shares.

If you’ve owned the stock for more than 60 days during a “dividend period,” then your dividend income is considered qualified, and it’s subject to long-term capital gains tax rates rather than ordinary income tax rates.

However, if you held onto the shares for less than 60 days, then your dividends will be taxed as regular earned income.

Capital Gains

Capital gains refer to the profit made from selling an asset for more than its original purchase price. This type of passive income is subject to different tax rates than ordinary income, with the potential for lower capital gains tax rates.

Long-term capital gains are profits on assets held for longer than one year while short-term capital gains are those on assets sold within a year of their purchase. For example, if you buy stock at $50 and sell it later for $75, your capital gain is $25.

Depending on how long you held the stock and your overall taxable income, this gain may be taxed at a lower rate than your ordinary income tax rate.


Royalties are payments that an individual receives in exchange for the use of their property, such as patents, copyrights, or mineral rights. These payments can be considered passive income and are subject to federal income tax.

For example, if a songwriter collects royalties from their music being played on the radio or streaming services, they must report this income on their tax return. The IRS treats royalty income differently based on how it’s classified – either as ordinary income or capital gains.

It’s important to note that royalty payments may also be subject to state and local taxes depending on where the property is located and how it’s used. Some states have unique rules surrounding royalties that should be taken into consideration when determining tax liability.

Taxation On Passive Income

Passive income is subject to different tax rules than active income, including ordinary income tax rates, capital gains tax rates, and the alternative minimum tax (AMT), so it’s important to understand how your passive income will affect your taxes.

The Difference Between Active And Passive Income

Active income refers to earnings from a job or business in which a person is actively participating. This includes wages, salaries, tips, and profits from a business where the owner is also working in the day-to-day operations.

Active income is subject to FICA taxes such as Social Security and Medicare.

On the other hand, passive income refers to earnings from rental property, limited partnerships, or investments in which an individual is not directly involved in running the day-to-day operations.

Passive income may include rental income, dividend income, capital gains from investments that are held for more than one year, or royalties earned by an author on their book sales.

For example: A person who owns a rental property but doesn’t engage in any management practices like maintenance work or collecting rent personally receives passive rental income associated with depreciation of assets; Investment gains received long after purchase date (long-term capital gain) can be considered types of passive investment incomes with lower tax liabilities because they receive special tax treatment.

Ordinary Income Tax Rates

Ordinary income tax rates apply to most types of passive income, and these rates are based on your overall taxable income. Here is an overview of the federal tax brackets for ordinary income in the United States for the year 2021:

Tax RateSingleMarried Filing JointlyHead of Household
10%Up to $9,950Up to $19,900Up to $14,200
12%$9,951 to $40,525$19,901 to $81,050$14,201 to $54,200
22%$40,526 to $86,375$81,051 to $172,750$54,201 to $86,350
24%$86,376 to $164,925$172,751 to $329,850$86,351 to $164,900
32%$164,926 to $209,425$329,851 to $418,850$164,901 to $209,400
35%$209,426 to $523,600$418,851 to $628,300$209,401 to $523,600
37%Over $523,600Over $628,300Over $523,600

Keep in mind that these rates are for federal taxes only, and state taxes may also apply to your passive income. Consult with a tax professional to understand the full implications of taxation on your passive income sources.

Capital Gains Tax Rates

Passive income can also come from capital gains, which are profits realized from selling assets such as stocks, real estate, or mutual funds. The taxation of capital gains depends on whether the asset was held for a short-term or long-term period. Short-term capital gains (assets held for less than a year) are taxed at the ordinary income tax rate, while long-term capital gains (assets held for more than a year) receive preferential tax treatment and are subject to lower tax rates ranging from 0% to 20%. For example, if you bought shares of a stock at $10 and sold them after holding onto them for two years when they were worth $15, your gain would be $5 per share. This would qualify as long-term capital gains and would be taxed at the favorable rates set by the IRS.

Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) is a parallel tax system that operates alongside the regular income tax system. Its purpose is to ensure that high-income taxpayers pay at least a minimum amount of taxes, regardless of deductions and credits.

The AMT has different rules for calculating taxable income and applies its own set of rates and brackets. Taxpayers must calculate their tax liability under both systems, then pay whichever amount is higher.

If your passive income pushes you into a high tax bracket, or if you have an unusually large amount of deductions or exemptions, you may be subject to AMT.

Deductions And Credits For Passive Income

Tax deductions and credits can help reduce the tax liability on passive income. Here are some deductions and credits to consider:

1. Depreciation: Rental real estate owners can take advantage of depreciation deductions, which allow them to recoup the costs of acquiring and improving their property over time.

2. Business expenses: If you have a business that generates passive income, you may be able to deduct expenses related to running the business, such as office supplies or travel expenses.

3. Losses from other passive activities: If you have one source of passive income that generates losses, you may be able to offset those losses against profits from another passive activity.

4. Retirement account contributions: Contributions made to certain retirement accounts, such as a traditional IRA or 401(k), can be deducted from taxable income.

5. Passive Activity Tax Credit: This credit is available for individuals with modified adjusted gross incomes below $100,000 who actively participate in rental real estate activities and meet certain other criteria.

It’s important to note that not all passive income is eligible for these deductions and credits, and some may have limitations or phase-outs based on your income level. Consulting with a tax professional can help ensure you’re taking advantage of all available options to minimize your tax liability on passive income.

Misconceptions About Passive Income Taxation

Despite common misconceptions, passive income is not always tax-free and may not qualify for preferential tax rates. It’s important to understand the difference between active and passive income and consult with a tax professional to maximize deductions and credits for minimizing taxes on your portfolio.

Passive Income Is Not Always Tax-free

One common misconception about passive income is that it’s always tax-free, which is not true. While some types of passive income are taxed at preferential rates, others may be subject to ordinary income tax rates or even the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT).

For example, rental income from a property may be taxed at ordinary income tax rates and may also incur self-employment taxes if the property is managed by the owner. Additionally, any gains from selling a rental property can also be subject to capital gains tax.

Passive Income Does Not Always Qualify For Preferential Tax Rates

Contrary to popular belief, not all passive income is eligible for preferential tax rates. While some types of passive income like long-term capital gains are afforded favorable tax treatment, other forms such as rental income do not qualify for these benefits.

In fact, rental income may be subject to ordinary income tax rates which can be significantly higher than capital gains taxes. It’s important to understand the specific rules and guidelines that apply to each type of passive income in order to effectively plan for taxes and potentially reduce them through deductions or credits.

Passive Activity Losses May Be Limited

Passive activity losses refer to the expenses incurred in generating passive income that exceed the income generated. While these losses can offset other passive income, they may be limited by tax rules.

The IRS defines two types of activities: passive and active. Active activities are those where a taxpayer materially participates, while passive activities are those where the taxpayer is merely an investor.

Passive activity losses can only be deducted from other sources of passive income or carried forward to future years when there is positive net passive activity income.

It’s essential to understand that active participation in an investment changes its classification from a “passive” source of revenue to “active.” Therefore, investors must keep track of their hours spent actively managing investments and monitor how much time they devote annually before making significant investments decisions.

Strategies For Reducing Taxes On Passive Income

Learn about smart strategies that can help you reduce taxes on your passive income, including investing in tax-advantaged accounts, using tax deductions and credits, timing capital gains and losses, and consulting with a tax professional.

Investing In Tax-advantaged Accounts

Investing in tax-advantaged accounts is one strategy to potentially reduce taxes on passive income. Tax-advantaged accounts such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and 401(k)s allow investors to save for retirement while deferring taxes on their contributions and earnings until withdrawal.

Traditional IRAs, for instance, offer immediate tax savings since contributions are deductible from taxable income, while Roth IRAs provide a different benefit by allowing withdrawals of both contributions and earnings to be made tax-free after age 59½.

Using Tax Deductions And Credits

One effective way to reduce taxes on your passive income is by using tax deductions and credits. Here are some strategies you can use:

1. Depreciation: If you have rental properties, you can claim depreciation as a tax deduction each year based on the estimated useful life of the property.

2. Retirement accounts: Contributions to traditional retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs can lower your taxable income, reducing your tax bill on all types of income, including passive income.

3. Business expenses: If you have a business that generates passive income, you can deduct expenses such as advertising, supplies, and travel.

4. Real estate losses: If you have a real estate investment that generates losses, these losses may be deductible against other types of income, including passive income.

5. Tax credits: Certain tax credits are available for renewable energy investments or investing in low-income housing projects.

By taking advantage of these deductions and credits, you can potentially lower your tax liability on your passive income and keep more money in your pocket. It’s important to consult with a tax professional to ensure you’re taking advantage of all available deductions and credits while staying within IRS regulations.

Timing Capital Gains And Losses

Timing is crucial when it comes to the taxation of capital gains and losses on passive income. Investors can minimize their tax liability by carefully timing the sale of assets that generate capital gains or losses.

Another strategy is to hold onto assets for at least one year before selling them. This will often qualify these sales as long-term capital gains which receive a more favorable tax rate than short-term capital gains.

Ultimately, understanding how different types of passive income are taxed and utilizing smart tactics such as timing asset sales correctly can help investors keep more money in their pockets come tax time.

Consulting With A Tax Professional

Consulting with a tax professional is an essential part of managing your passive income taxes. A tax expert can provide valuable guidance on the most effective ways to reduce your taxable income through deductions and credits, as well as advise you on more complex tax strategies such as investing in tax-advantaged accounts.

They can also help you navigate rules around passive activity losses that may limit your ability to claim certain deductions. Additionally, a tax professional can ensure that you are up-to-date on any changes or updates to IRS regulations that could impact how much you owe in taxes each year.


Passive income is a great way to earn money without actively working for it but, like all earnings, it’s subject to taxation. It’s important to understand the different types of passive income and how they are taxed.

By investing in tax-advantaged accounts and using deductions and credits, investors can potentially reduce their tax liability on passive income. Remember, passive income may not always be tax-free or qualify for preferential tax rates, so consulting with a tax professional can help ensure you’re maximizing your earnings while reducing taxes legally.