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Excellent Ideas for Passive Income in 2023


The current cost-of-living crisis is encouraging many Australians to find additional sources of income to cover rising food, petrol and energy bills. And little wonder, too.

Not only did inflation come in at 7.8% in Australia for the year to December—the most recent monthly inflation figure for the year to August was stubbornly high at 5.2%. Furthermore,  interest rates have risen from .1% in April last year to 4.1% as of October 2023, adding hundreds of dollars a month to the average mortgage.

The petrol excise cut also ended last year in Australia, translating into higher costs for motorists at the bowser, and this has been compounded by huge spikes in energy and electricity bills this winter. The IMF, too, has assessed the global inflation climate and predicts that inflation will not fully return to target bands until 2025.

It’s understandable then that Australians are looking for additional ways to earn money, with so-called passive income a good way of supplementing your household earnings to provide a safety buffer when finances are tight.

Fortunately, there’s a growing number of passive income options, with the pandemic opening up innovative ways to earn much-needed extra money. Let’s take a closer look at what is meant by the term ‘passive income’, how to research the various investment options, and some of the most popular options for Australians.

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What is a Passive Income?

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Passive income refers to income that does not need a significant commitment of time or money. Although most passive income ideas involve some initial resources, they should require only minimal monitoring on an ongoing basis.

There are three main types of passive income streams:

  • Investing: generating a return from investing money in a high-interest saving account, term deposit or the stock market.
  • Asset sharing: selling or renting out assets you own, such as your house or car.
  • Asset building: examples could include adding revenue-generating affiliate links to your blog or website or selling resources such as ebooks, educational content, music and photos online.

While all these categories have the potential to generate a substantial income, here’s some suggestions for popular ways of earning a passive income in Australia.

Dividends from Investments

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Dividends are paid by companies to their shareholders and can provide a good passive income stream if you have available funds to invest. Furthermore, Australian listed companies are among the most liquid in the world, meaning that shareholders can buy and sell with relative ease.

The dividend yield is a fairly reliable indicator of the ‘return’ on your investment, which is similar to the annual rate on a savings account. It is calculated as the dividend payment divided by the price of the share (or investment). So if a company with a share price of $100 pays an annual dividend of $4, the dividend yield would be 4%.

Some of the best-performing companies on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) have known to offer yields of 10% or more. However, caution should be taken over instances of very high dividend-yielding shares, which, on occasions, can occur when there’s a sharp fall in share price, artificially inflating the yield. This means fundamentals other than dividend yield should also be considered when researching whether to buy shares in a company.

You can read more in our our guide on ASX Stocks to Watch in 2023.

There are three main ways to earn a dividend stream from investments:

Company shares

Australian companies typically pay dividends in cash on a half-yearly or yearly basis. The company will announce to the market its ‘ex-dividend’ date, which may also involve a letter to shareholders outlining the return they are to receive based on the company’s performance. Shareholders must own the shares on the ex-dividend date nominated in the letter; if you bought shares after this date, you are not entitled to receive payment.

In Australia, a tax break, known as a franking credit, is issued to shareholders with their dividends which can often mean more money in your hip pocket. As the dividend pay-out has already been taxed—in the form of the company tax paid on profits—the shareholder will receive the franking credit that, depending on his or her individual rate of tax, may allow them to receive a rebate on their income tax. This prevents the dividend money from essentially being taxed twice, and is a tax break that is unique to Australia.

Some investors elect to reinvest their dividends into the company, thereby increasing their holdings and potentially compounding their profits. However, there can be a trade-off between dividend pay-outs and share price growth. ‘Growth’ shares such as Tesla, Amazon and Meta have not historically paid dividends, preferring to invest surplus cash to generate future growth.

By comparison, the more traditional, ‘blue chip’ companies tend to pay higher dividends. The UK’s Investors’ Chronicle reports that the average dividend yield for the UK’s FTSE 100 and the US Nasdaq is currently 3.3% and 0.7% respectively. This illustrates the higher proportion of dividend-paying, industrial companies in the FTSE 100 compared to the technology-heavy Nasdaq.

In Australia, Market Index has a handy index that allows you to view companies ranked in order of their dividend yield. However, we hasten to add that yield is only one factor in what goes in to making a particular stock a good investment.

Investment trusts

Investment trusts invest in assets such as shares, and the majority of trusts pay dividends.

As with shares, dividend yields should be considered alongside other factors if you’re looking to buy into an investment trust, particularly its future prospects for share price growth. There is a variety of investment trusts from which to choose, including specialist equity income trusts and trusts focused on different sectors such as technology, property and commodities.

In particular, Real Estate Investment Trusts (commonly referred to as REITs) are a common way for Australians to invest their money into varying commercial property segments, such as retail and industrial, without the hassle of becoming a landlord.

Many commercial property REITs focus on a particular sector, such as warehouses, hospitals, office buildings or shopping centres and are popular among those seeking exposure to the sharemarket. Australian REITs are listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), and are easily identifiable as A-REITs.

Although they represent physical assets, REITs are listed and traded like stocks and many investors are drawn to them for their dividend and diversification appeal. However, they are just as vulnerable to the vicissitudes of share market movements as standard stocks: some may argue they are even more exposed because REITs are often highly leveraged.

It’s important to seek advice on whether your financial situation would be improved by the addition of a A-REIT to your portfolio. It’s also important in any passive-income scenario to look beyond the dividend pay-out to ascertain whether your investment is likely to pay off in the long-term and meet your financial goals.

Managed Funds

As its name suggests, a managed fund is one in which a manager actively oversees the investment of pooled money, dispersing the investment into a range of financial products, such as cash, shares, bonds and listed property trusts.

Some investors opt for passively managed funds, such as an ETF, in which the fund tracks an index or commodity that can be bought and sold on the ASX. Others prefer actively managed funds in which the fund manager uses his or her expertise and financial acumen to actively select the financial products. Some funds, known as single-asset managed funds, focus on a single asset class, such as cash, bonds or shares. Other people prefer to invest in a range of assets, from growth (which are higher risk) to conservative funds (which are lower risk, but may also offer lower returns).

When you pool your money with others into a managed fund you buy what is referred to as ‘units’, the value of which will rise and fall with the value of the underlying assets.

Many managed funds pay income or interest on the investment after a specified time period. They are often the first port of call for new investors as the barriers to entry are quite low: you can get started in a managed fund for around $5,000. However make sure you investigate the fee structure of the fund and your tax implications.

Interest from Savings Accounts and Bonds

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Interest returns

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Lodging your money in a high-interest savings account also produces a passive income. Bonus saver accounts—where you meet key criteria each month, such as a certain number of deposits to qualify for a higher rate—are currently paying around 5% in some cases, while online saver accounts are offering introductory rates of around 4%—but be aware that these rates drop away to much lower figures once the introductory period, usually about four months, is over.

When interest rates were low during the pandemic, savers were earning close to zero on their cash holdings, but now that the cash rate has risen, savers are starting to see some decent offers on their accounts. The key is to opt for a bonus saver or online saver account that is specifically designed to help you save money—standard transactional accounts will offer paltry interest rates.

It is worth reviewing, too, the interest rate on a regular basis to ensure you’re getting the best deal and that you are meeting the criteria to qualify for the highest possible rate. Check the terms and conditions before you sign up.

Although investing in savings accounts is lower-risk than the stock market, the average return has also historically been lower. Given the current inflation rate of 6.8% in Australia as of April, money invested in savings accounts paying an interest rate of 5% will still be effectively going backwards. But as inflation eases over 2023, savers will start to receive more bang for their buck.

Nevertheless, your money is safe in the bank thanks to the Australian Government’s Financial Claims Scheme, which protects consumers’ deposits up to $250,000 per person, should the institution fail.

Government Bonds

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Government bonds, meanwhile, are popular among more conservative investors as they are generally a safer bet. Under the scheme, investors lend money to a company in return for regular interest payments, called coupon payments.

Bonds pay interest at regular intervals and if you hold them to maturity, they offer investors a reliable return. Indexed bonds, which are indexed against the CPI to protect against inflation, are a good investment at times when inflation is rising.

You can buy and sell government bonds on the ASX.

Company bonds

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Company bonds are another option for those seeking a reliable source of income. These corporate bonds are riskier than government bonds as if the company goes bankrupt then you stand to lose your investment.

Although, it’s worth keeping in mind that if a company does go bankrupt then bond holders are usually paid out before shareholders, making them a less-risky investment.

Be aware that in December 2021, ASIC issued an alert to investors about the existence of several fake Treasury Bond offers that are, in fact, scams. Financial institutions are not authorised to issue Treasury Bonds on behalf of the Australian Government.

Passive Income from Property

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Investing in property can generate a substantial passive income, either from long-term rental or short-term holiday lets. However, this involves a significant up-front investment, as well as ongoing maintenance and management of the property. Landlords in Australia benefit from substantial tax breaks in relation to property investment, primarily in the form of negative gearing, which allows investors to claim a portion of their expenses from the rental back on tax—assuming the income of the investment is less than overall outlay on the property.

In Australia, property investors who have held the property for at least a year, are also entitled to a 50% discount on the Capital Gains Tax (CGT) paid on any profit from the sale of the home.

Keep in mind, however, that while there is favourable tax treatment for property investors in Australia, there is no such thing as a sure-fire investment with guaranteed profit. Investors would be wise to conduct their due diligence to ensure property is the right investment for them.

Final thoughts

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As with any investment, you should consider the level of risk associated with the product and whether you are able to absorb any losses. In most cases, income tax will be payable on passive income, so speak to you accountant and financial advisor so you’re well prepared.

Also keep in mind that passive income is a bit of a misnomer in that there is no such thing as truly dormant investments. Whether it be shares or property, each asset class involves a degree of research and due diligence, at least to begin with. However, by doing your own research from the get-go, and conducting the proper checks and balances in the early phases, you can choose the right ‘passive’ income stream for you.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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What is the best passive income idea for beginners?

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If you’re new to the concept of passive income, then it’s best to start slowly and pick a stream that is relatively low-risk and that you are comfortable with. Now is not the time to be rash and throw your lot in with a high-stakes gamble, such as cryptocurrency. Speak to an ethical financial advisor for ideas on the best strategy for your situation.

What is the most profitable passive income idea?

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As passive income involves a number of factors beyond your control, such as geopolitical disruptions and the global economic environment, this can change from year to year. In some years, shares turn out to be the most profitable for some people, while in other years, they are better off in government bonds. They are also many sub-markets within the major asset classes that result in a huge variety of results: you may do well in certain stocks, but not others. Rather than staying wedded to a particular investment stream, look at the economic environment and your own financial situation to decide which is likely to be more profitable for you.

How do I start making passive income?

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If you’re new, and uncertain, it’s best to start small and with good advice. There is a range of ethical and independent financial advisers out there who can help you decide where a good place to start is based on your financial set-up and goals. Be aware of advice from those pushing certain products or investment vehicles: it’s in their interests, after all, to tell you that their approach is the best place to start.

Is passive income taxed in Australia?

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The short answer is: yes. Even if you are making a little bit of money on the side, and your passive income stream is not your main source of income, you must declare any additional income as part of your tax return to the ATO.

What are some examples of passive income?

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Passive income refers to an income stream—usually a secondary income source, although not always—that generates a source of wealth. There may be some initial effort required, but the best sources of passive income are those that don’t require your full-time labour. Examples of these include: renting out a spare space, selling intellectual property online, or receiving share dividends on stocks.

Which passive income idea is best?

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There is no one ‘best’ passive income idea, nor are there any guarantees that you will make money via passive income. For some, the best idea for them may be dividends on shares because they are comfortable with stock investing, while for others it may be renting out their huge garage because they have the space. Find a path that works best for you.

How can I make 00 a month passive income?

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There are no shortage of ways to make extra money on the side, and the right one for you will depend on your skill-set and set-up. But generally speaking, you may wish to consider:

  • Investing in the stock market for the long-term.
  • Investing in high-yield dividend stocks and ETFs.
  • Rent out spare spaces: garages, bedrooms or granny flats.
  • List items for sale on marketplaces, such as Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace.

The best way to reach $1,000 a month is to match your skills or resources—be it investing nous or a spare bedroom to rent out—and test it out. You may find that you need to dedicate a fair bit of time in the initial phase of setting up your income stream to research and tweaking, before it becomes more or less automated. You may also try a number of different income streams before finding one that works for you. Be aware that no income stream is 100% passive all of the time, so be prepared to do the work when necessary in order to keep the income flowing in.

What is meant by passive income?

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Passive income refers to an income stream that requires minimal effort on your part: you’ve set up a business, side hustle or investment portfolio and the money is flowing in. People are often seduced into passive income schemes, such as multi-level marketing arrangements, under the false pretence that it will be easy. The truth is it may take quite a few hours before you see any returns, and even then there will still be times that you need to dedicate your full attention to your ‘passive’ income stream.

Sources


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