Residual Income

Residual income is income that a person continues to make after the work he has put into a project has been completed. Residual income is different from linear income in that linear income refers to someone’s salary. Salaries are paid based on the number of hours someone works in the present, rather than the royalties someone can earn on work that was done in the past. To explore this concept, consider the following residual income definition.

Definition of Residual Income


  1. The income that one continues to make after the work has already been completed.

Origin of Residual

1550-1560       Latin    residu (“what is left over”)

What is Residual Income

The term “residual income” refers to the income that someone makes after their work has already been completed. An example of residual income is the earnings an author continues to make on a book after it has been published, when fans continue to purchase copies years later. Residual income is ideal because it is money that is being earned while doing nothing in the present moment to earn that money.

Another example of residual income is the money that a musician continues to make on a song several years after its official release. This happens when the musician transfers ownership of that song to the record company, who then pays the artist royalties for every copy sold. This type of income is commonly referred as “royalties.”

Residual income is different from a salary, or linear income, which is paid out strictly based on the number of hours a person works. Someone who works on a salary is often said to work “paycheck to paycheck.” This is because he pays all of his bills with his first paycheck and then must wait until he gets paid again to have more money. Ideally, someone will work hard building up a business so that he can enjoy the residual income once his goals have been met. Then he can work on additional projects while still earning money from his business.

Other examples of residual income include:

  • Royalties from intellectual properties, like written works, written or recorded music, movies, or patents
  • Donations or royalties from advertisements that are earned through a blog or website
  • Purchasing a property and then leasing or renting it out
  • Interest paid on a savings account

However, residual income typically has an expiration date, especially if it is being earned through a business. Effort must be continuously put into the business in order for someone to continue to receive residual income. Businesses must continue to market themselves in order to remain relevant. The best way to look at residual income in this sense is that it is a part-time job that earns full-time income.

Residual income, when it comes to taxes, is referred to as “passive income,” and the IRS provides information on taxation of this type of earnings on its website.

Benefits of Residual Income

While it sounds like an ideal income stream, there are more specific benefits of residual income. For instance, unlike a salary, someone does not need to remain tied to the same location in order to earn income. He can move halfway around the world and still make the same residual income as he would if he stayed in the same location as his business.

Another benefit of residual income is that, if the income stream is large enough, one does not need the main focus of his life to be on making enough money to survive. Having a comfortable and continuous level of residual income opens up more opportunities to travel, look into other business opportunities, and even take the time to indulge in his hobbies.

Those who can reap the benefits of residual income have typically put in an immense amount of effort and time in the beginning to be able to enjoy the rewards later on. Residual income, therefore, does not result in instant gratification. Those interested in earning residual income must have a lot of patience and determination to work as hard as necessary to achieve their ultimate goals of a long-standing income stream.

How to Calculate Residual Income

The formula for calculating residual income is a pretty simple one:

RI = A – (B x C)

Here, residual income (RI) is found by multiplying the minimum required return on a person’s assets (B) by the average operating assets (C). That amount is then subtracted from the person’s net operating income (A) in order find the RI.

The net operating income is the amount of money that has been made once all of the person’s expenses have been subtracted from it. For instance, in order for an author to determine his net operating income, he would have to deduct the costs involved in creating the book from the amount that he earned. Designing the book cover, editing the book, and publishing the book are all examples of these kinds of expenses.

The number that is found by multiplying B and C is called the “percentage cost capital.” The percentage cost capital is the percentage that is necessary in order to get investment funds. Companies who give out bonds would use the interest rates placed on those bonds to determine how much of their capital they spend on giving those bonds out.

Calculating the average operating assets involves counting how much, on average, would be necessary in order to continue future operating assets. The average operating assets are the funds that will end up going back into the business to keep it functional.

Residual Income Example in a Divorce Case

On August 4, 2003, Brad and Karen Murray’s marriage ended. They continued arguing over their assets for another four years. Brad worked as an independent broker for Ameriplan – a marketing company specializing in providing discounted rates on services related to healthcare. As part of his job, Brad sold monthly memberships to Ameriplan’s discounted health plans. He also recruited other brokers to do the same.

The members and brokers that Brad recruited, as well as the members and brokers that those people recruited, were considered Brad’s “downline.” At the time of the divorce, Brad’s downline consisted of thousands of members and brokers, earning Brad a residual income of about $27,000 per month. The trial court was tasked with determining just how to divide the residual income, generated by Brad’s downline, between the two parties.

During the trial, Karen offered proof that she and Brad had built the business together, and that the downline was the result of their joint efforts – not just Brad’s. Karen argued that the residual income from the downline should therefore be split at a 60/40 rate on a monthly basis. Brad, on the other hand, asked the trial court to value the business. Upon valuation, the court could either allow him to buy out Karen’s share or direct that the business be sold, with the proceeds being split 60/40 between the two parties.

The trial court ruled in Karen’s favor and signed a proposed divorce decree that had been drafted up by Brad’s attorney. Neither party appealed the decree. After the divorce, however, Karen’s monthly income began to progressively decline. As a result, she filed a petition in July of 2007 alleging that Brad had violated the terms of the divorce decree. She also proposed an alternative argument that perhaps the divorce decree was too vague and needed to be clarified. The trial court found that the decree was, in fact, too vague, and ordered it to be clarified.

Part of this clarification included the definition of residual income, as it applied to Brad and Karen. This clarification read, in part:

“[T]he stream of continuing payments that are earned by Brad and/or Karen from the commissions (current and future) earned by the brokers within a book of business. Residual income arises from all sources of income relating to or derived from an identified book of business, including commissions earned by the brokers within that identified book of business from any source whatsoever.”

The clarified order then divided Brad’s commissions into three separate categories. The first category represented the specific members and brokers that made up Brad and Karen’s downline as of their date of divorce. The second represented those new members and brokers that Brad had earned on his own after the date of divorce. The third consisted of new members and brokers that were earned by the brokers within the first category after the date of divorce.

Further, the clarified order awarded Karen sixty percent of the residual income that was earned from the income and commissions generated by the brokers within the first category, and after the date of divorce. However, the order also stated that Karen was not entitled to any of the residual income generated by the second or third category. Brad filed for a new trial, but the trial court denied it. He appealed, and the appeals court ultimately affirmed the trial court’s clarified order.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Commission – A fee paid to a broker for negotiating a sale, which is based on a percentage of the sale price.
  • Expense – The cost required for something.
  • Royalties – A sum of money paid to a patentee for the use of his patent, or to an author or composer for each copy of a book or piece of music sold.

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