35 Easy Passive Income Ideas for 2021

Making money while you sleep has a beautiful ring to it, and that's the idea behind passive income.

Most people think of income as something they work for. Go to work for a day, get a day's pay. Passive income is money you earn even when you're not working. It takes some investment of time, money, energy, or all three, but then the money just comes in, helping you pay off a student loan, dig out of credit card debt, save for retirement, or advance other personal finance goals.

Do you want to get started? Here are 35 passive income ideas:

What is Passive Income?

Passive income is defined as income that requires minimal effort to earn. For example, if you invest some money and your investment increases in value, that's passive income. If you create something digitally–like a video or a song–and you get money every time someone views it, that's passive income. It is a form of income that builds you wealth even when you're not working.

How Does Passive Income Work?

Since you're busy living your life, you want to build a passive income stream that eventually works while you sleep, play, socialize…whatever you want to be doing with your time. The good news is that you don't need a pile of cash to start your passive income stream. If you already have an asset that you are not fully utilizing, that can serve as your investment. If you have money that's just sitting in a savings account, you can instead put it somewhere where it will earn more money, letting you invest in your future.

8 Truly Passive Income Ideas

These truly passive income ideas require a one-time investment followed by zero future effort. There's no upkeep, no fuss, no muss, and these are some of the most straightforward passive income ideas to implement.

1. Alternative Assets

Alternative assets, or alternative investments, are often headline news. Because traditional investments like stocks and real estate sometimes involve a lot of market volatility, and savings accounts only offer low-interest rates, people are looking for other options.

Some of the more popular alternative investments include hedge funds, private equity, crowdfunded real estate investments, and commodities like wine,  geeky collectibles, and even luxury watches.

LuxeStreet, for example, offers partial shares of high-end watches at a minimum investment of $10,000. This luxury watch investment pays 12% per year at the rate of 1% each month. The best part of it is your investment is backed by luxury watches owned outright by Luxe Street.

Pro: Alternative investments give you exposure to unique asset classes, different from everyday stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.

Con: Alternative investing is a fledgling industry with developing regulations. Consequently, these types of investments may be riskier in terms of losing your money than those more highly regulated.

2. Passive Real Estate Investing

Talk to any landlord, and they'll tell you that “passive” is the last word they'd ever use to describe apartment management. However, many companies give you the ability to invest in commercial and residential real estate projects without being involved in the day-to-day management.

One example is DiversyFund. It's a private REIT (real estate investment trust) that allows you to passively invest in professional real estate for as little as $500. DiversyFund focuses its investments on lower-risk multifamily housing, and they use technology to scour the country for properties that fit their specific criteria.

DiversyFund looks for high occupancy and favorable cash flow properties that need an influx of cash to pay for some upgrades or repairs. These aren't complete renovations. Instead, a typical DiversyFund property might just need an updated bathroom or kitchen, or maybe just a fresh coat of paint. After minor renovations, the upgraded properties merit increased rents, which means higher property value and more money in return for your investment.

Holding periods for DiversyFund properties tend to be in the five-year range, and preferred returns for their properties are in the 7% range.

Pro: DiversyFund does all the hard work for you, giving you exposure to residential real estate without requiring you to be a landlord.

Con: As with any third-party investment, DiversyFund charges fees.

3. Earn Passive Income with Lending Club

If you're looking for another way to earn passive income, you may want to consider Lending Club's peer-to-peer lending platform. Lending Club allows passive investors to diversify their assets by investing in different types of loans. Lending Club will enable you to loan your money out to people and groups looking for funding. The type of loans you choose will determine your investment return and risk exposure.

All you need to do is invest as little as $25 in a single loan. Then, your investment is combined with other investors to make up the entire loan amount. While others may invest more, many investors choose to stick with $25 minimums across multiple loans, and this diversification tends to decrease risk.

After you make your initial investment, you will start earning passive income from the borrowers' repayments. As a borrower pays down their loan, you will receive monthly interest payments. Since this is a peer-to-peer lending platform, you're essentially the lender, which means that you collect the principal and the interest. After you're repaid, you can choose whether to cash out or reinvest your funds in other Lending Club loans.

Pro: Lending Club allows you to help many different loan seekers while earning passive income yourself.

Con: If a few of your borrowers cannot repay the loan, it can be easy to miss out on profits or potentially even lose money.

4. Invest in Dividend Stocks

Dividends are profits paid out to owners of stocks. Some companies pay dividends regularly, which means that dividends can become a dependable source of income if you amass a significant number of shares over time.

Investors who love dividend-paying stocks will talk about how their investment is generating dividend income and appreciating. In other words, they're getting a regular supply of money (from the dividends), and the underlying stock is increasing in value (as the company grows).

Keep in mind that stocks with high dividends still carry risk. Dividend stocks can drop in value like any other stock, and they are similar to other equities in that they're usually best to buy and hold for a long time.

But if you have some extra cash to invest and understand the risk involved, dividend stocks are something to consider. Perhaps an index fund full of them would be right for you, and just make sure you understand the risks of index fund bubbles.

Pro: A proven income stream with over 100 years of heritage, backed up by some of the world's most blue-chip companies.

Con: “Prior results do not guarantee future outcomes.” Your initial investment could lose 50% overnight if the stock market crashes.

5. Open a High-Interest Savings Account

Savings accounts are a reliable way to protect money–but not to increase it. Sadly, brick-and-mortar banks barely pay any money in interest, and institutions like Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America, and others pay around 0.08% interest. So you could have $100,000 in the bank and earn less than $100 per year in interest. That's nothing!

That's why keeping your savings in a high-yield savings account is clutch. The best high-interest banks are online-only, so you won't need to mess with going into the bank to get started. And some pay as much as 0.70% interest per year.

You could also look into money market accounts, treasury bonds, or certificates of deposit for low-risk, stable return investments.

Pro: As safe as safe can be.

Con: Meager returns. Inflation might cause you to lose buying power.

6. Long-Term Index Fund Investing

Do you believe that the global economy will continue to grow and progress? And do you have 10+ years to invest money and build eventual passive income streams? If so, index investing might be for you.

An index fund is a mutual fund that owns a wide assortment of assets. Some index funds are focused (e.g., an automotive index fund might own all automotive stocks). Other index funds are broad (e.g., a total market index fund might own every store on the stock market).

Either way, the idea of index funds is to lower risk by diversifying their assets and reducing their costs by enacting simple asset ownership rules. Index funds don't look for the needle in the haystack, and they just buy the whole haystack.

Over the long run, index investing has proven to be a very successful method of portfolio growth. And if your portfolio is growing, you can skim off some of the profits as passive income.

Pro: Proven method of long-term monetary growth and successful retirement planning.

Con: Not a short-term passive income solution.

7. Become an “Angel.”

Angel investing is a high-risk, high-reward proposition. It gets its name because it answers the question, “Who would invest in a startup company with no track record, no customer base, and no surefire path to revenue growth?” Answer: only an angel.

Of course, angel investing also provides a path to equity ownership in a company that could be huge one day. Could you imagine buying into companies like Shopify or Uber when they only had a handful of employees? Small angel investment can grow by 1000x! But, of course, that same investment can just as quickly disappear in six months.

Angel investing is a feast-or-famine proposition.

Pro: Immense upside. A hands-off way to help entrepreneurs trying to change the world.

Con: As high risk as anything mentioned in this article.

8. Earn Cashback

Did you know that you can earn money from your everyday spending? For example, if you shop with Cashback Credit Cards or Cash Back Rewards Cards, you get a rebate applied to your credit card bill. So if you're spending money anyway, you might as well get some cash back for it.

Pro: After opening the card, earning cashback is automatic and requires no additional effort.

Con: If having a cashback card entices you to purchase unnecessary items, you'll erase any credits received. Even worse, if you overspend, you might find yourself unable to pay the bill each month and incur hefty financing charges.

11 Semi-Passive Income Ideas

If you're motivated to create additional income outside of your day job, these ideas that require a bit more effort can help you generate cash to put towards your short and long-term financial goals.

1. Rent Your Apartment or House

Utilizing real estate that you own is a great way to turn your property into rental income. Airbnb and similar services have revolutionized where people stay when they travel. And it has opened up serious passive income doors. Unsure how much money you can make? Simply log on to a site and check out what your market looks like.

Granted, you've still got to ask yourself: is this money worth the effort? Being an Airbnb host isn't truly passive. Sure, you already have the house or apartment. But you still have to act as part landlord, part maid, and maybe even cook your guest some meals. That's work. Also, you have to make sure that you are legally allowed to run an Airbnb from your property. Some cities, neighborhood associations, and homeowner groups forbid it. But if it is legal, and you are excited by the idea of meeting new people and making some solid side cash, then Airbnb hosting might be perfect for you!

Pro: Meet new people every week while getting paid to do so.

Con: You have to become part landlord, part maid, etc.

2.  Rent Out an Extra Bedroom

Do you have a spare bedroom you're not using? Consider renting it out for extra income. It means hundreds of extra dollars in your account, and it also means you have someone else living in your home. That's not for everyone. Just make sure you both sign a formal rental agreement stating all the rules of the house and the agreement, including who pays for utilities, and rules about guests, cleaning, and sharing the refrigerator.

Pro: Turn an unused resource in your home into an income source. And hey, maybe you'll make a new friend!

Con: Another person is living in your house…your kitchen…your bathroom. Even if they're a saint, having a housemate can be tough.

3.  Rent Extra Land

Perhaps the idea of hosting someone inside your house isn't for you. But how about hosting someone on your property by renting your extra land? There is a tiny home bonanza sweeping the country right now. People are choosing to live in tiny homes and embrace a minimalist lifestyle. But, unfortunately, a lot of those people can't find anyplace to put their tiny home.

If you have some land, this creates an opportunity for you to rent out space on your lot. You're making the most of a resource you aren't using and giving someone else a place to live. Win-win. You'll want to make sure you don't violate any laws or codes in your city or state.

Pro: Compared to other ways you can share your real estate, this is pretty hands-off.

Con: Adding new buildings to your property can be a significant headache due to local laws and zoning codes. Do your homework!

4.  Renting Your Car

Companies like Turo and GetAround make it easier than ever to rent out your car when you aren't using it. Of course, you'll want to keep in mind that renting out your car will mean additional wear and tear on your vehicle, so your repair bills might increase. But users have said it's well worth it for the checks coming in the mail.

If you have a second car sitting around or have begun to bike to work and no longer need the vehicle daily due to working remotely, this might be the perfect way to start generating some passive income. You need to make sure your insurance policy covers this side hustle.

Pro: A car is one of the worst investments you can make. But renting your vehicle out makes that investment less bad.

Con: More miles = more repairs. And what if the car renter spills their burrito all over your nice clean seats?

5. Refer Friends to Great Products You Already Use

Companies like Rakuten.com (formerly eBates) have existing referral programs that pay out cash for every friend you register. So if you have many friends or social media followers, this can be a low effort way to make money.

All you have to do is set up an account by clicking the join now tab at the homepage's top. Once the account is up, go to your account settings and click where it says refer and earn to get a link to send your friends.

To find other programs like this, it's super simple. Nearly any company that delivers food or other products has similar programs.

Pro: Many people buy many things, and most people would like to save money if they can.

Con: You don't want to be known as the “let me sign you up with my referral code” guy. There's a fine line between passive income and alienating the people in your life.

6. Make Money Playing Video Games

Did you know you can earn money playing games? If you're already playing games in your free time, you can earn some extra cash while having fun. For example, Mistplay is an awesome app that allows you to make money playing video games.

Pro: You'll be making money for something you're already doing.

Con: You might be tempted to spend more hours playing video games than usual.

7. Try Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing pays you fees for referring new customers to brands.

For example, suppose you own a website that compares prices (e.g., something like Kayak.com). In that case, you can show price comparisons to your customer and then earn commissions for referring those customers to eventual purchases. If you have a large social media following, you could earn a percentage of the purchases made by your followers. This type of investment can be genuinely passive if it's already generating revenue with very little hands-on involvement.

Pro: Once the ball is rolling, you can make a lot of money very quickly.

Con: Creating a website or gaining a large social media following can be tough.

8. Run a Site with Display Ads

Affiliate marketing isn't the only way to make money online. Some websites sell digital products. But some rely on online advertisements. If you have a site with many users, advertisers will pay you for a spot on that site. The more eyeballs on your website, the more money you'll make.

Pro: It's the oldest and most consistent business model on the Internet.

Con: You've got to find the balance between earning money and driving away visitors by having too many spammy ads.

9. Start a YouTube Channel

Do you have a message to share with the world? Something unique to teach people? A bent for videography? A personality that people want to watch? If you gather a following on YouTube, you can earn a significant passive income from advertising revenue.

Pro: It's free to set up, and it's a proven way to make real money.

Con: You'll have to build a following and be willing to develop videos without immediate results.

10. Create a Print-on-Demand Online Store

Do you have a graphic design touch? If so, you could create iconic designs and sell them in an online store. Then, your customers can simply download the designs they enjoy and print them on their own. Alternatively, you could outsource the printing to a third party—e.g., a customer orders one of your t-shirts, and a third-party print shop makes the t-shirt and sends it to the customer.

You've got to do some work upfront making the art and researching what kinds of designs customers are buying today.

But if you're up for it, you can create a steady passive income stream from print-on-demand graphic designs.

Pro: A creative outlet that can lead to stable passive income. Possible to outsource nearly all of the sustaining work.

Con: It's possible to create a whole portfolio of graphic design that nobody wants, and you've got to create something desirable.

11. Create an App

Are you a programmer? If you have a decent understanding of math and logic, you can quickly teach yourself various app coding languages and start creating your very own smartphone apps.

Do you remember Flappy Bird? In 2013, this simple single-player smartphone game seemingly took the world by storm, garnering millions of downloads. The app developer claimed to be making $50,000 a day from in-app advertising.

Now, Flappy Bird struck gold, but if you took a month to create an app and then made $20 per day for the next five years, that'd be close to $30,000 in passive income.

Pro: Everybody has a smartphone, so your potential audience is huge.

Con: The app stores are flooded, so whatever you make has to be excellent and desirable.

5 Passive Side Hustles

These passive side hustles require a steady but low amount of effort to execute. If you need money now, these options are easy to get off the ground.  They aren't entirely passive but still can provide an additional income without requiring you to work all weekend.

1. Learn to Flip Products on eBay

There's a chance that you know a certain product better than anyone else. Maybe it's game consoles or cell phones, and for others, it's makeup, shoes, or handbags. The point is: you might be an expert and not even realize it.

You could earn a significant side income by learning to buy and sell that product for a profit on eBay. This is frequently called “flipping.” The learning curve may be a little steep at first. However, once you get the hang of selling on eBay, you can regularly churn out additional income.

Pro: There's a lot of pure profit to be made, as long as you know what you're doing.

Con: Dealing with anonymous parties can be tough, and eBay typically sides with the buyer over the seller. So if you're selling for profit, you can easily get burned.

2. Use Your Washing Machine

If you have a washing machine and dryer, you can make money. Sound crazy? Several companies bill themselves as the Uber for Laundry, and they are pretty simple. You sign up, pick up clothes from people who live near you, and wash them. Once you deliver their laundry, you'll get paid. It's that simple.

Pro: Turn an unused resource in your home into an income source. You don't need incredible skills to wash people's clothes.

Con: Everyone has a different definition of “dirty laundry.” Are you sure you want to test yours?

3. Become a Tutor

The more the world changes, the more people need new skills. If you have a specific skill set in language, math, computer science, or any number of other areas, you may be able to find clients to pay you to teach them.

With all of the new technology available, you can even tutor kids in China and make money while in your apartment in Texas. Check out companies like VIPKid for online tutoring jobs.

You can make a lot more than minimum wage by working around your regular work schedule before or after work, during the summer break, or on weekends.

Pro: You have a lifetime of knowledge. Someone out there is probably looking to learn what you already know.

Con: Teaching can be tough, and your students will expect results. How are you going to react when you've explained something ten times, and they say, “I still don't get it”?

4. Become a Collectibles Expert

What do stamps, Beanie Babies, and Pokémon cards have in common? First, they are all niche collectibles with small but thriving markets. Second, you can do a few hours of homework on a particular collectible and immediately become more knowledgeable than 99% of the population. And that knowledge is power.

People are selling their old “junk” every day for pennies on the dollar. If you develop the skills to recognize treasure from trash, you can turn their pennies into your dollars.

The world of collectibles is incredibly diverse, ranging from old arrowheads to Christmas ornaments to classic books. But where there's a paying customer, there's an opportunity to earn semi-passive income.

Pro: Niche markets where large differences in knowledge can lead to significant profit margins.

Con: An incredibly diverse range of products and a real risk of getting fooled by counterfeits (a.k.a. losing money).

5. Give Lessons

Are you a highly-trained athlete or artist? Do you have demonstrable skills, competitive experience, or professional licensure? Then you could make significant side hustle income by giving lessons.

The biggest customers? Parents and their kids. There's a huge demand from parents who want their children to have good golf swings, nice singing voices, and the ability to speak in public.

And you don't need to be a professional opera singer or a world-traveling tennis player, and all you need is enough skill so that the parents and their children respect your expertise. Many former DIII athletes and local art teachers make $50-$100 per hour by giving lessons in their expertise fields.

Pro: Lots of potential clients, high demand for your skills.

Con: While the effort to acquire your skills is a passive sunk cost, the effort to give the lessons is quite active.

5 Residual Income Ideas

Passive income, semi-passive income, side hustles, and now residual income?! It may seem like splitting hairs, but there is a difference between passive income and residual income. One type of residual income is a payment to an actor or writer for each rerun after an initial TV season. Don't worry. You don't have to be a celebrity to take advantage of this type of income stream.

1. Royalties

Let's say you wrote a book. It could be an eBook (e.g., via Amazon's kindle direct publishing) or a traditional book published in print. If you self-publish, almost all the money from sales of that book goes straight to you–even years later. If you use a publisher, they pay you an upfront fee for the work. Once they recover that fee from sales, any additional income you receive (net the publisher's cut) is residual income. Meaning you did the work once, yet all sales proceeds going forward provide you residual income.

Pro: A steady income stream from now until you die.

Con: You've got to write an excellent book (or make a good movie, show, etc.). It takes skill and hard work.

2. Product Sales

Not the writing type? That's fine. Let's say you're a widget salesperson.

You sell the widget for a set price. Part of the sale is for ongoing service. The purchaser pays a monthly (or other) ongoing fee for your company to service the widget. The company receives the money, the service department handles the continuing service, and you get a piece of the ongoing fee from the service contract— that's residual income.

In the insurance world, salespeople get an upfront commission for the initial product sale. For example, the sale might be life insurance, property, and casualty, or health coverage. After the original commission gets paid, the salesperson receives an ongoing residual income from the initial sale as long as the customer pays the premiums. Service usually comes from the client services team, not the selling agent.

Pro: There's a very high ceiling. Sales commissions and residual income frequently have no upper limits.

Con: Sales is a tough job, and your failures are very apparent and right in your face.

3. Stock Photos

Do you love photography and have an eye for capturing beautiful shots? Did you know there are numerous ways to sell your photos online? While you could launch a site to sell your photos directly, you can also sell your shots to large established stock photo sites like Shutterstock and iStockphoto with a built-in customer base.

Pro: After the initial time spent taking and uploading photos, you can receive regular royalty payments for years to come.

Con: There's a lot of competition in the space from both amateur and professional photographers.

4. Online Course

Do you have a particular skill? Have you mastered a piece of your profession that you can teach others? If you're a media relations professional, you could teach others how to write a press release that drives editorial coverage, for example. With over a dozen places to sell an online course, it's never been easier to make residual income from the knowledge you already have.

Pro: Large, existing marketplace for online courses.

Con: Standing out among all the other existing course offerings can be difficult.

5. MLM Marketing

For those not familiar with it, MLM is a multi-level marketing program with residual income aspects.

In MLM programs, participants are encouraged to sell a company's products. Of course, the participants get paid for that. But big money typically comes from recruiting others to sell those products under your account. Every person you recruit pays a percentage of their sales to you, as does every person they recruit. So you encourage those folks to recruit others, etc. The idea is to build a sales empire—sometimes shaped like a pyramid where many people are at the bottom and fewer people at the top.

People at the top of this food chain earn residual income via the people underneath them in their “line.” The folks at the top aren't selling themselves yet are making income from those underneath them.

Pro: Turn your entrepreneurial spirit into passive income.

Con: MLMs are very controversial. Don't get trapped by purchasing many products upfront, and don't alienate your friends and family.

6 Small Businesses

Small business owners will tell you that being an entrepreneur is hard work, and there's always something to do. Very few business owners would classify their income as passive, and it's probably the opposite of passive, and it's very active!

But some small businesses can, essentially, operate on their own, with enough systems set in place.

1. Car Wash

Most modern car washes fall into two camps: they are either self-serve or fully automated. The car owner either gets out and washes the car themselves or drives up to a conveyor belt that sucks them through a tunnel of bubbles.

In either case, there are likely very few employees and a small amount of upkeep. All you have to do is make sure the soap is fully stocked and the water is running.

Sounds like the perfect job for a teenage part-time worker.

Pro:  Carwashes provide steady income with almost no real effort from the owner.

Con: Good help is hard to find, and you'll be relying on employees to run your business.

2. Storage Rentals

People love stuff. And the more stuff they collect, the more likely they will pay a third party to store that stuff. And that third party could be you!

A storage rental facility, especially if it's not air-conditioned, requires some significant overhead up front, not much maintenance.

Pro: Fewer maintenance issues than an apartment or home rental.

Con: Like any small business, you'll need to oversee it and the employees.

3. Laundromat

Last but not least, the laundromat is another excellent “hands-off” small business that could earn you passive income. Perhaps you're underwhelmed since you'll only be collecting profits of $2.25 at a time.  But it's one of the few businesses where the customers do all the work themselves! Dozens, if not hundreds, of customers, might use your laundromat on a typical day.

Pro: Very high potential for long-term passive income, with a small amount of active work as a business owner.

Con: You'll need to rent a physical space and spend capital to buy and maintain the necessary machines.

4. Become a Franchisee

What if you could open a business that had worldwide recognition from Day 1? That's what you can do by becoming a franchisee. The most common example of this occurs with popular fast-food chains like McDonald's or Burger King.

Most individual fast-food restaurants are not owned and operated by the main corporation but are owned and operated by a local small business owner, a.k.a. the franchisee. This person might pay rent or licensing fees to the main corporation, but they keep most of the restaurant's profits for themselves.

If you want to turn this idea passive, hire good employees to manage the franchise for you. They deal with the day-to-day operation; they deal with the headaches. You collect the profits.

Pro: An established business model with a very high ceiling (e.g., multiple locations at high-profit margins).

Con: Requires high initial cost and can easily become non-passive if you have difficulty “letting go” of your involvement.

5. Buy ATMs

Where do those fees go when you use an ATM? Answer: straight to the ATM owner's pockets. And those pockets could be yours.

If you find a good location for an ATM, you can make significant amounts of passive income. The key is finding an under-utilized area with a high density of people needing cash.

Much like the laundromat or car wash, it might feel like earning 2 dollar ATM fees is a slow path to wealth. But it's incredibly hands-off, and the customers do all of the “work” themselves.

Pro: Very hands-off. Good business model as long as people need money (and they always do).

Con: Requires a great location. And your business involves an unguarded box full of cash, and that's risky.

6. Vending Machines

Did you know that individuals can own vending machines? So if you have an idea for a high-traffic area in need of convenient food and drinks options, you can start your own business. There are machines available on the resale market and whole small vending businesses from those looking to retire.

Pro: Requires minimal time each week for restocking.

Con: Location, location location is vital, and you might have some duds.

The Bottom Line

Remember, generating passive income requires creativity and some initial work to set things up. You've got to consider the value of time!

But if you can take some time to learn something you think you'd be good at, you can start to make money outside a traditional day job. So take an intriguing idea, do your homework and give it a try. You'll be on your way to building an income stream for yourself in no time.

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Michael launched Your Money Geek to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.