2020 Passive Income $48,201!

2020 passive income 3502020 was a difficult year for many of us. The COVID-19 pandemic spread uncontrollably and the economy changed forever. Many workers lost their income, but many also had a very good year. It was the strangest year I ever lived through. Unbelievably, the stock market did very well in 2020. Most investor came though the coronavirus crash very well. Our net worth gained 16% last year. I can’t believe it. I would have been happy to get through 2020 with just 1-2% gains. The stock market is so unpredictable.

Unfortunately, our passive income decreased quite a bit in 2020. This was mostly due to reallocation. I moved some money from bond to stock when the stock market crashed. This move reduced our passive income, but gave our net worth a boost. Okay, let’s look at the details. First, I’ll review the basics for new readers.

*FI ratio = passive income / expense

2020 quarterly passive income

Passive Income is Key

Passive income is one of the keys to a successful early retirement. Once your passive income surpasses your cost of living, it’s total financial independence. I retired before our passive income get there, but I had an alternate source of income – blogging. Luckily, early retirement worked out very well for me over the last 8 years. Our income was good so we kept investing. Our net worth almost tripled over this period and we feel very comfortable financially. However, we are still working to surpass 100% FI ratio consistently. 2020 was good as far as FI ratio goes. Our passive income is down a bit, but our spending is way down. I think 2021 will be much better.

Currently, we support our moderate lifestyle with the combination of these income streams:

  • Mrs. RB40 works full-time. She plans to take a year off in 2022 and retire early soon after that.
  • I blog a few hours per day and do a few small side hustles.
  • Passive Income – We generate passive income from the stock market, real estate crowdfunding projects, rental properties, and other investments.

FI Ratio

The FI ratio is a simple way to measure progress toward financial freedom. Personally, I think 100% FI ratio is overkill because nobody stops working completely after early retirement. But it’s better to err on the side of caution.

In the first part of 2020, our FI ratio was very good. We didn’t spend much and our passive income was good. Q4 didn’t work as well, though. It was the only quarter where we spent more than our passive income. We had a few large expenses such as estate planning and travel. Fortunately, we were ahead for the first 3 quarters so the year still worked out well. Our FI ratio was 120% for 2020. That’s pretty good for a pandemic year.

Now, I’ll go over each of our passive income streams individually.

Real Estate Crowdfunding Income: 2020 target $5,000

I started investing in real estate crowdfunding in 2017. My experience has been mostly positive. There were some problems, but I still think it’s a good way to invest in real estate. At this point, I don’t want to deal with tenants and repairs anymore. However, this is a new way to invest and it could be risky. I plan to cap our asset allocation at 10% for this class of investment.

This year, I invested with CrowdStreet and PeerStreet. They both have a very good track record. I like CrowdStreet more because there are fewer turnovers. PeerStreet is good, but you have to keep reinvesting. That’s more work than I’d like.

Real estate crowdfunding is great because you can diversify to different areas of the country. I’m not optimistic about the Portland real estate market so I’d rather invest elsewhere.

Here is the spreadsheet of my RE crowdfunding investments. We exceeded our $5,000 goal! Last year we made $6,714.

2020 RE crowdfunding finish

Real estate projects I invested in

  1. CrowdStreet – Currently, we have $77,000 invested with CrowdStreet. Recently, I committed $18,000 more so the total will increase to $95,000 soon.  CrowdStreet is the best RE crowdfunding company on the market right now. Their commercial projects are first class and should weather the downturn pretty well. Check out their project by signing up for a free account at CrowdStreet.
  2. PeerStreet – PeerStreet is good too. This is strictly hard money lending so the income potential is not as high as equity deals.
  3. An apartment in Arizona ($10,000.) This equity deal is going well so far. The estimated cash on cash return is 10% per year. After 5 years, the property will be sold. The estimated total rate of return is about 16% per year.

Completed in 2020

  1. A strip mall in Arizona ($8,000.) This project is done! The strip mall was sold just in time and we got our payout. In total, we invested $8,000 and got $11,035 back in total. That’s about 12.5% annualized return. That’s not bad at all. The estimated ROI was 17% per year. The actual profit is lower than projected, but I’ll gladly take it in this climate.
  2. An apartment in North Carolina ($10,000.) This equity deal is done! In total, we invested $10,000 and received $12,537 back. That’s about 8.9% annualized return (2 years and 8 months.) The expected ROI was 16% per year so this is way lower than expected.
  3. PeerStreet – Two projects completed on PeerStreet. We received $297 in income last year.


A fast-food restaurant in Florida ($5,000) This project is in foreclosure. I think we’ll get some money back, but I’m not sure how much. I’d be happy with 80%.

*Estimated ROI is just that, an estimate. There are risks with any investments including real estate. If you’re not comfortable with real estate crowdfunding, I recommend REITs. They are more established and also have good returns. We have some REITs in our dividend portfolio.

If you’re interested in real estate crowdfunding, sign up with these companies below and check out their projects. You don’t have to invest if you don’t see something you like. I like to invest with a sponsor who has a very long track record, at least 10 years in the real estate business.

  • CrowdStreet – CrowdStreet focuses on commercial properties across the USA. They have apartments, hotels, self-storage units, strip malls, office buildings, and more. The minimum investment here starts at $25,000 which is a bit higher than other companies. They have some great projects lined up, though. Sign up for free with CrowdStreet and check them out.
  • PeerStreet – PeerStreet has a very good reputation. Investors can invest in private lending with real estate backing. The only issue I’ve had is early completion. Some projects finished very quickly and I had to spend time to find a new project to invest in. PeerStreet only accepts investment from accredited investors*.
  • RealtyMogul – All investors can invest in REIT deals at RealtyMogul. In addition, accredited investors can invest in private projects and do a 1031 exchange.
  • Fundrise – Non-accredited investors can invest in iREIT here.

 *Accredited investor needs to have over $200,000 of income over the last 2 years or a net worth of over $1,000,000.

Rental Property Income: 2020 target $3,500

Currently, we have 2 units in our rental property portfolio. However, I plan to consolidate to just the duplex where we live. I can’t be a DIY landlord anymore because I want to travel a lot more. My parents live in Thailand and they are getting older. They will need more help in the years to come. At this point in life, I’d rather invest in diverse real estate through RE crowdfunding. Being a landlord is a great way to build wealth, but I need to be a more passive investor in the future.

2020 is a tough year for landlords as well as renters. Landlords have to pay the mortgage, property tax, and all sorts of upkeep expenses even if the tenants can’t pay rent. Fortunately, our tenants have secure jobs and they are paying the rent on time. Whew! It could have gone much differently if I picked different tenants. We had a few big expenses in Q1, but Q2 and Q3 were much smoother. Q4 was bad, though. One of our tenants is working from Europe for a while. We gave him 50% off until he comes back. As a result, we had a negative cash flow in Q4. It’s actually a win-win because we can use his living area as an office for Mrs. RB40. We needed more space since everyone was home. Also, we repaired our chimney and had several other small maintenance issues.

2020 YTD rental income: $2,439

Unfortunately, we didn’t meet our rental income goal of $3,500. I’m happy we had positive cash flow, though. Many landlords and tenants had a lot more problems than we did.

  • 2016 rental income: $1,974
  • 2017 rental income: $10,973
  • 2018 rental income: $8,999
  • 2019 rental income: $716
  • YTD 2020 rental income: $2,439

Dividend Income: 2020 target $16,000

Dividend income is my favorite form of passive income. Investors own a small part of these public companies and they work for you. These days, I mostly focus on companies that consistently grow their dividend income over the years. This strategy will ensure that our dividend income keeps growing even if we don’t add new money. Currently, we reinvest all the income from this portfolio, but we’ll use it to pay our expenses once Mrs. RB40 retires. If you’re a new investor, here is a helpful post – How to Start Investing in Dividend Stocks.

As for reinvestment, I don’t DRIP. I just accumulate the dividend and invest in a stock or real estate crowdfunding.

For 2020, I hoped to generate $16,000 from our dividend portfolio. Unfortunately, we didn’t complete this goal. We generated $14,266 last year. The pandemic caused some problems for our portfolio.

  • Suspended dividend: Disney, Boeing, and Delta.
  • Froze dividend (no raise): LEG, JPM, SYY, DE, XOM, CVX, and DFS.
  • Reduced dividend:  NLY and SPG.

For new investors, I highly recommend Firstrade. Firstrade is a great discount brokerage that I used for many years. Recently, they lowered their trading fees to $0. That’s great news! Young investors can buy stock without having to worry about the fees. Other discount brokerages are following suit and offer no trading fee now.

YTD dividend income = $14,266

2020 dividend

Tax-advantaged Income: 2020 target $37,000

New investors should read these posts first.

The money in these retirement accounts isn’t easily accessible at this time (I’m 47), but they still count as passive income. Once we both retire full time, we’ll build a Roth IRA ladder to access these traditional IRAs so we don’t have to pay the 10% early withdrawal penalty.

For 2020, we fell way short of $37,000. The problem was primarily in Joe’s traditional IRA. When the stock market crashed, I sold all the bonds and purchased Disney, Boeing, Home Depot, and other stocks. Most of these stocks cut dividend so that reduced my payout by about $10,000. However, it was still a good move because my traditional IRA grew over $100,000 since then. This whole category should improve after the economy recovers.

2020 tax advantaged income

Somewhat Passive Income – Blogging

Blogging isn’t very passive for me at this point so this is not part of my FI ratio. In 2020, I spent 10-15 hours per week writing, networking, responding to comments, and maintaining Retire by 40. It was way less than usual because my son was home and I helped him with school. This was just the right amount of time for me last year. 2020 was pretty stressful and it was hard to focus. I’ll probably stick to this schedule for the next few years.

Anyway, blog income was a huge bonus. When I started Retire by 40 in 2010, my goal was to generate about $500/month. After 10 years, my blog income has grown tremendously. I’m very grateful for your support. Thank you!

2020 Blog Income: $31,253

This year, my blog income decreased by about 20% from the previous year. That’s actually better than I expected. The blog traffic decreased by about 25%. I guess people don’t really want to read about early retirement when the pandemic hit. But I don’t really know why. Hopefully, the blog traffic will improve over the next few years.

Here is how we generated online income in 2020.

Revenue: $41,403

  • Banner ads: $22,536. These are the banner ads you see on Retire by 40. I hope to make about $2,000 per month with these ads at some point. This is down due to lower traffic. For 2021, I hope to generate about $1,500/m.
  • Affiliates: $17,067. These are referral fees from affiliate links. If a reader signs up for a service through our affiliate links, then we may receive a referral fee. I’d like to see about $2,000/month at some point. For 2021, I’d be very happy with around $1,000/m.
  • Private ads: $1,800. Occasionally, we worked with a company to advertise their products. I rarely do this anymore. This income will be very small in 2020.

Expenses: $10,150

  • Business: -$4,232. Business equipment, internet, hosting, email service, CDN, cell phone, etc…
  • Travel and meals: -$1069
  • Employee: -$2,548. This year, RB40Jr is our part-time YouTuber, photographer, model, and mascot. I’ll pay him $25 for each image and video I use in a blog post and $4 per image on social media. This income will go straight to his Roth IRA. I’m excited to see how this experiment will turn out. We made a bunch of videos this year.
  • Estimated tax: $2,200. I haven’t sent this in yet. We still haven’t received our stimulus so they should cancel each other out.

Here is the 2020 graph of the revenue, expense, and net income. We can see the blog income decreasing over the last few months.

2020 blog income

2020 Passive Income

Here is our passive income spreadsheet since 2016.

Passive income 2020

All in all, 2020 was a good year for us. Our passive income was enough to cover our expenses. That’s the bottom line. It should continue to improve once the pandemic is under control.

What about you? How did your passive income perform in 2020?

*Sign up for a free account at Personal Capital to help manage your net worth and investment accounts. I log in almost every day to check on our accounts. It’s a great site for DIY investors.

The following two tabs change content below.
Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.
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45 thoughts on “2020 Passive Income $48,201!”

  1. Great info. How has the current climate impact the Real estate crowdfunding market? I did receive a lot of information reading your blog. Thanks for sharing

  2. You can make blogging even more passive if you dictate your posts in advance and then schedule them accordingly. It’s still somewhat passive BUT it can alleviate a lot of stress if you suddenly find yourself busy with family or life issues. Additionally, you can use IFTTT as a way to automate part of your marketing.

  3. I was surprised with 2020 and thought a lot of my investments especially in real estate syndications would take a major hit because of covid. But 2020 ended up being my best year ever.

    Although my real estate syndications probably performed lower than was planned, the total finally breached 6 figures. Coupled with other returns I actually exceeded the goal I had for retirement cash flow and that was not including returns from retirement accounts (I calculate totals for with and without retirement returns because if I retire early I would not have access to this for some time).

    Hoping 2021 doesn’t throw any major curve balls for both of us and this continues to trend upward.

  4. Thanks for the updates Joe.
    For RE crowd street, do you have to file tax for each state where the property is located?
    Do you get a k1 every year? I just started with fundrise.I am just hoping it won’t makes the taxes complicated.

    • I got a K1 for each project every year. I just file state tax for Oregon. I’m pretty sure you don’t have to file tax for each state the property is located. The k1 usually comes later than April, though. I have been filing with extension for the last few years.

  5. Our dividends are down about 11% compared with 2019, which doesn’t seem too bad given everything that has gone on.

    How is real estate crowd funding taxed? Does it count as ordinary income or are there any special tax treatments?

  6. I was skeptical about the RE crowdfunding earnings, but it seems like it really is working well for you. A nearly 7% return is good. I know there’s inflation to think about long term, but it could be a nice path to a 4% withdrawal rate. I may get in, but we have enough in real estate now, and I’m not sure I can stomach the big investment numbers and the small number of properties.

    You’re still doing better than me blogging… I like your attitude though – it’s kind of a nice bonus, but nothing you need.

    I bought a little Boeing at 109 last year in a Roth IRA. I sold off a 1/3rd at 243, so I effectively have 2/3rd left-over that was pretty close to free. I then reinvest the money back in an index or a bond and wait for another opportunity. This works well for me most of the time.

    • The ROI is difficult to calculate because time wasn’t the whole year. Some projects closed in early 2020.
      RE crowdfunding been pretty good so far. Now, I invest only with developers who have 10+ years of experience.
      I think Boeing is a good investment. Air travel will pick up once things are back to normal. People like to travel.
      Although, I don’t know about business travel. That might be down for a very long time.

  7. Good stuff Joe. I’m not sure I agree that you should include your passive income from your tax-advantaged accounts when calculating your FI. Yes, it’s passive income but, as you mentioned, it is not available to you at your current age. If your wife stopped working today, you wouldn’t have access to the passive income from the tax-advantaged accounts and your other passive income would not cover your expenses. I think it would be more realistic to calculate two FI values – one for now and one for retirement when all sources of passive income are really available. Thanks for the update.

  8. Maybe I’m just not following the math…If you’ve “made” $5898 so far real estate investments, but you might lose 5K on the deal that went bk doesn’t that mean you’ve only made $898? Seems more an illustration of how easily things can go bad than a demonstration of how great real estate crowd funding is.

      • I had a mistake in the spreadsheet. It was $119k. The ROI is hard to calculate because it wasn’t $119k the whole year. The foreclosure property isn’t complete yet. I’ll update the spreadsheet when it’s sold. I don’t think we should write off $5,000 until then. Hopefully, this will be done in 2021.

  9. I know so little about real estate crowd funding, but your examples have piqued my interest! Thank you for showing us the good with the bad and admitting there’s risk involved. It’s easy to omit the risks to prove one’s investing acumen, so I appreciate your honesty! 🙂 I’m still too new to this type of investing, but it’s something I’m curious enough about to explore it as another investment option. Nice job this year, Joe!

  10. Hi Joe, great job on the passive income! I love how diversified your income is.

    Our passive income is doing pretty good so far. Dividend income is actually up for the year! It will approach $60k by the end of December. That’s not phenomenal growth, but growth none-the-less!

  11. Yes, as you say, you are doing okay for the first 3 quarters.

    I am intrigued by real estate crowd funding but I am too lazy and too conservative to try it out.

    You ask, “How is your passive income holding up?” As I had indicated before, my revenues and pretax income from my books are quite a bit down from the previous 6 or 7 years. For two months the sales of my books dropped dramatically. But it appears that I am back to making around $6,000 CAN. a month. With the $1,440 CAN that I get from my CPP and OAS (the Canadian equivalent of the US Social Security), that is enough for me live on comfortably given that I have no debt and no mortgage.

    The biggest reason for the drop in sales of my books is that Barnes and Noble stopped ordering “How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free”. In 2019, they sold around 5,000 copies but in 2020 they stopped ordering it around February. The book in both print and ebook editions is still selling on Amazon so thanks to Jeff Bezos and Amazon on this Thanksgiving Day in Canada for having made this book a great success (now over 410,000 copies sold and published in 10 languages.)

  12. Thanks for sharing your numbers, Joe! Yeah, it’s a tough year for all. I’m super grateful to be in my position and not have to worry about paying a mortgage or losing my job. Our dividends haven’t actually been affected that much, some minor cuts in the European index, but somehow actually went up for Canadian index so they balanced each other out. We’ll see by the end of the year how it goes. REITs also haven’t been impacted either (surprisingly) I agree with you that dividends and bond interest are my fav types of passive income too.

    To your point about “2020 is a tough year for landlords as well as renters.” Yeah, we are seeing that in Toronto for sure. There was a huge protest at the Major’s house from tenant refusing to pay rent and wanting to halt evictions indefinitely and landlords are also having a hard time with Airbnb bookings tanking. It’s a weird time.

    How are your parents in Thailand? I heard it’s tough being under lockdown there because the night markets were all closed and Thailand isn’t really Thailand without street food. The good news seems to be that they have a 95% mask adoption rate and low number of cases and deaths. Hope they are safe!

    • My parents told me everything is open now. Economy is suffering because no tourists.
      They are taking COVID a lot more serious than in the US. Well, pretty much every country does.

  13. At least your passive income is covering your expenses but a few grand so far 🙂 Hope you have a good summer, and at least you’re not having to home school RBJR now.

  14. Most of my passive income is from my rental properties. I own greater than 20 rental units. My rental income has definitely taken a hit in the 2nd quarter due to the pandemic.

    I collected about 65% of my rental income in April, 80% in May and around 85% in June. I like the upward trend but I still have renters in financial distress. I don’t see myself getting back to 100% in a while.

    What do you attribute your decrease in blog income to? Is it lower page views because of less visitors? Or advertisers are paying less now because of economic stress?

    • I’m sorry to hear that. July might be a tough month since the $600 extra unemployment is almost over. Hang in there.
      Blog income is down due to less traffic, less advertising budget, and also readers don’t want to sign up for anything right now. Hopefully, we’ll be able to build back up once the economy improves.
      Good luck!

  15. Nice job so far in 2020 Joe! It’s been a difficult year.

    As far as how our passive income is holding up — We’re doing just fine. It’s higher than ever actually. We just notched over $30k for the first half of 2020.

    Let’s hope the second half will be just as good. 🙂

  16. You are doing quite well even though your blog income in down.

    You You ask, “What about you? How is your passive income holding up?”

    I hope my dividend income is holding up but I have been too lazy to look. My financial advisor friend with RBC Wealth Management in Toronto looks after my retirement account and I only check it two or three times a year. I trust him because he has done really well for me since 2016.

    As I said before, my income from my creative works has fallen by about 80 percent. For about 5 or 6 years, I made an annual average pretax income of around $250,000 CDN and now it is down to around $50,000 CDN.

    But if I can continue to earn $50,000 from my creative works for years to come, I will be alright. I reassure myself by using my favorite retirement calculator at VanCity in Vancouver. (I like the graph that it creates.)


    I punch the numbers saying that I want a retirment income of $120,000 a year for the expected retirement period of 20 years. Even using the conservative return of 4 percent a year and an inflation rate of 2.5 percent a year, the calculations and graph always indicate that I will still have hundreds of thousands of dollars when I pass away.

    Of course, as a single person who owns my half-duplex with no mortgage, I can live quite well on $120,000 a year. Besides, even though I am 71, I still think that I am creative enough to write more books that can get me back to earning over $100,000 a year from my intellectual property.

    • That’s a big drop! I’m sure the income will return after the pandemic is over. For now, nobody wants to read about early retirement.
      Thank you for showing us that your creativity is your best asset.

  17. Joe, Thanks for sharing. you are the blogger who has started my fire journey 3-4 years back, We have moved to Chiang Mai from China last summer, and planning to move to the east coast of USA by next spring (originally planned this summer, but delayed with COVID-19)
    both our rental and dividend income had some reductions in 1Q: one of the tenant has asked for rent reduction for the lease renew. 5%+ reduction in dividend payments. was using the current crisis to teach my son (10yrs) on the importance of diversified investment.
    good luck every one and stay safe. New Fire from Thailand

  18. Thanks for sharing your details Joe! That’s great RBJR is on payroll, he’ll learn a lot about what it takes to run a business.

    It’s crazy seeing income being hit everywhere- even passive income, something that you would think would be untouchable. Initially I was naive to think dividend income would be safe too, but there have been some cuts- not for mine yet but I would think it’s a matter of time.

    I think there is less traffic for blogs because people are too distracted at home (maybe with their kids, homeschooling, working from home) and too exhausted at the end of the day to look online other than for COVID-19 information.

  19. RB40 –

    As you said it, a solid Q1 and blog income looked great, actually. Your ads appear to be doing very well for you, so far, this year and similarly – we expect at least a quarter, if not two quarters of decline in this category. Keep it up and stay healthy!


  20. Looks pretty good Joe but like everyone else I think we will start to see the impact of the virus to passive income. This is especially true to side hustles and rental income. For dividends, some companies have started to cut dividends too!

  21. I love the smell of FIRE in the morning. Great job, Joe! And I’m so happy to see RB40Jr is n the payroll. That young man is going to have some portfolio by the time he’s an old geezer like me. Things are going well here in Groovyland. We’ve been retired for three and a half years now and things are going smoothly on the money front. Average annual spending is around $38K. Average annual passive income (pension + dividends) is around $45K. Hope all is well on the West Coast, my friend. Stay safe.

  22. It will be a poor financial quarter for us. Blog traffic for me has been going down a lot every year. COVID-19 will make it only worse. There’s no dog sitting side hustle either. This is a good time for us to focus on family, but it might be a little too much focus now.

    I’m going to spend a little more time thinking about Roth IRA conversions. I had presumed that would work for us because of my wife’s pension, but can probably just do it in smaller amounts.

  23. our passive income is steady. we get about 700/month from our preferred stock etf’s but the prices drop when stocks drop. it’s scary even though they don’t tend to cut payouts and the prices come back. still, the fund prices drop 40% and it gets a person’s attention. this is the year from free money so far in our house. $300 chase bonus. $150 td credit card bonus. $75 from a work health tracker bonus. $50 for a work award. plus we sold some art just before everything shut down. well done on your part.

  24. I didn’t think blogging revenue would go down from this since everyone is still online and bored at home but I guess I was wrong. I was hoping that a blog would be a business I could depend on if other sources of income dried up but I guess they’re just as vulnerable as anything else. Oh well, it’s still pretty awesome to make some money from writing some stuff on a website! I’d love to earn $15k in three months from it. I hope the rest of the year goes well for you and I’m glad you and your family will be okay.

    • Companies are conserving money so they spend less on advertising. Also, blog traffic is down a bit. I think nobody really wants to read about early retirement at this time. There are too many problems to deal with.
      Hopefully, the blog income will go back up in the 2nd half of 2020.

  25. My online graphic arts sales have gone down about 25 – 30% since the pandemic started. Amazon took Merch offline but my other sites are still selling. Overall it could be worse, my business is still growing, but not as fast. I was more than doubling month-over-month revenue from last year before this. I’m still beating them though.

    Congrats on your blog having an employee. Watch out, he may start a union 😉


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