What Is Unearned Income?

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on August 10, 2023

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Unearned Income Definition

Unearned Income is a term that refers to any income made from sources other than employment, such as inheritance, alimony, interest, or dividends. Unearned Income is passive income, meaning that it accrues without active management.

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Examples of Unearned Income

Sources of unearned income include, but are not limited to:

  • Retirement accounts such as a 401(k) or annuity
  • Inheritance
  • Gifts
  • Dividends
  • Interest from investments
  • Veteran's (VA) benefits
  • Property income
  • Welfare benefits
  • Lottery winnings

How is Unearned Income Taxed?

Unearned income is taxed differently than regular, or earned, income. Unearned income is not subject to payroll tax, for example.

However, it is included when determining adjusted gross income, or AGI, which is used to calculate tax liability and eligibility for certain deductions and credits.

Unearned income does, therefore, contribute to an individual's overall tax burden. During the accumulation phase, taxes are deferred on many sources of unearned income.

When it is taxed, it is taxed at the marginal rate, which is the percentage of tax paid at a particular tax bracket.

For example, an individual can make contributions to a 401(k) tax-free, however upon withdrawal the distributions are taxed based on the account holder's current tax bracket.

Most sources of unearned income cannot be used to contribute to an individual retirement account, or IRA. One of the only exceptions to this rule is alimony, which can be added to an IRA despite being taxed as unearned income.

Unearned Income FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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