Active Income: Overview, Examples vs Passive Income

What Is Active Income?

Active income refers to income received for performing a service. Wages, tips, salaries, commissions, and income from businesses in which there is material participation are examples of active income.

Key Takeaways

  • The most common types of income are active, passive, and portfolio.
  • Active income includes salaries, wages, commissions, and tips.
  • For income from a business to be considered active rather than passive, the owner must satisfy the requirements for material participation, which is based on hours worked or other factors.

Understanding Active Income

There are three main categories of income: active income, passive (or unearned) income, and portfolio income.

Income received in the form of a paycheck from an employer is the most common example of active income.

For the self-employed or anyone else with an ownership interest in a business, income from business activities is considered active if it meets the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) definition of material participation. That means at least one of the following is true:

  • The taxpayer works 500 or more hours in the business during the year.
  • The taxpayer does the majority of the work in the business.
  • The taxpayer works more than 100 hours in the business during the year, and no other staff works more hours than the taxpayer.

If someone receives income from a business in which they don’t actively participate, then that is considered passive income. Portfolio income, meanwhile, is income from investments, such as dividends and capital gains.

These different types of income can be taxed differently, depending on the law at the time. For example, portfolio income is currently taxed at lower rates than active income.

The material participation rule was established to stop individuals who don’t actively participate in a business from using it to generate tax losses that they could write off against their active income.

Example of Active Income From a Business

Patrick and Emily, who are not married to each other, each have a 50% interest in an online business. Patrick does the majority of the day-to-day work in the business. Therefore, the IRS considers his income active. Emily, meanwhile, assists with the marketing activities but works fewer than 100 hours a year in the business. Therefore, the IRS considers her income from the business to be passive.

What Are the Three Types of Income?

Income is broken down into three main categories: passive, portfolio, and active.

What Are Examples of Active Income?

Active income is income received from a job or business venture that you actively participated in. Examples of active income include wages, salaries, bonuses, commissions, tips, and net earnings from self-employment.

What Is the Difference Between Active and Passive Income?

Active income, generally speaking, is generated from tasks linked to your job or career that take up time. Passive income, on the other hand, is income that you can earn with relatively minimal effort, such as renting out a property or earning money from a business without much active participation.

Article Sources
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  1. Internal Revenue Service. “Publication 925: Passive Activity and At-Risk Rules,” Page 6. Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. “Publication 925, Passive Activity and At-Risk Rules.” Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. “Publication 925, Passive Activity and At-Risk Rules,” Page 5. Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  4. Corporate Finance Institute. “Passive Income.” Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  5. Internal Revenue Service. “Publication 925, Passive Activity and At-Risk Rules,” Page 6. Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  6. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2022." Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  7. Internal Revenue Service. "IRS Provides Tax Inflation Adjustments for Tax Year 2021." Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

  8. Internal Revenue Service. "Publication 550: Investment Income and Expenses." Accessed Dec. 29, 2021.

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