7 Income Streams That Make Millionaires Rich

6 min Read

You can tell a lot about how rich people make their money by looking at their taxes — which is probably why they work so hard to keep people from nosing around in their returns. 

The IRS gave regular people a glimpse into that insulated world in 2015 when it published the results of a research study titled, “Over the Top: How Tax Returns Show that the Very Rich Are Different from You and Me.”

It remains the most comprehensive examination of how rich people get and keep their fortunes. It used estate tax data dating back decades, specifically from Form 706, the United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return.

If your estate’s executor isn’t planning to file one of those on your behalf after you die, you probably need to keep saving. 

The study’s findings revealed seven income streams that millionaires — and even richer people with real money — tend to have in common. Are you looking to turn on a new financial faucet in your own life? If you want to get rich, the following various income streams of millionaires are a good place to start. 

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Capital Gains From Appreciated Assets

Many people face the familiar problem of wanting to buy a giant social media company to assert control over the national dialogue without upsetting their day-to-day cash flow. 

Elon Musk faced this very dilemma in when he needed cash on hand in case his now-infamous Twitter deal went through. He solved the problem by selling roughly $7 billion of his Tesla stock, which he exercised the option to buy for pennies on the dollar as part of his compensation package.

While it’s not exactly an income stream, millionaires buy and hold appreciating liquid assets like stocks because they can convert them to cash any time they need an infusion of capital.  

Dividend Income

Once Elon Musk sold his shares, they were gone forever unless he decided to buy them back. 

Dividend stocks, on the other hand, let millionaires have their cake and eat it, too, by making regular payments to their shareholders without requiring them to sell. As the stocks appreciate over time, the dividend payments get bigger. Like the goose that lays the golden egg, dividend stocks are the ultimate passive income stream — and if you ever need a shot in the arm, you can also sell the goose for a lump-sum windfall.

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Interest Payments

You know interest as the extra money you pay to the bank, credit card company or mortgage lender each month. That’s their fee for lending you money to buy things that you didn’t have the cash to purchase outright. 

For rich people, interest payments move in the other direction. Millionaires commonly collect compound interest through non-equity lending vehicles like high-yield savings accounts, CDs, bonds and by issuing loans to investors, businesses, people and organizations, which you can do through peer-to-peer lending.

Rental Income

The landowning class has run the show since America’s founding — and real estate is still the ticket out of the middle class and into the ranks of the gilded. 

According to CNBC, Andrew Carnegie famously said that 90% of millionaires earned their fortunes through real estate — and that same percentage is still widely cited today.

It’s hard to assess whether 9 out of 10 millionaires actually made their fortunes through property ownership, but the IRS study shows that many millionaires use real estate — rental income specifically — to keep fresh money coming in as passive income. 

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Business Income

Although plenty of corporate executives rank among the wealthiest people in America, millionaires often work for themselves — and according to CNBC, you’ll rarely find them living the private jet Instagram lifestyle. Many of America’s millionaires earned their net worth through income from businesses that they built, and they typically work long hours, live frugally and prioritize saving money over long periods.

Earned Income

Many of America’s millionaires got rich simply by collecting a paycheck and being wise about how they spent it. Author Tom Corely — who interviewed 225 millionaires over five years — wrote for CNBC that most millionaires fall into one of four categories. One consists of people who hit the big time, like pro athletes and successful actors and musicians — more on them in a moment. The other three consist of people who work for a living, who he refers to as:

  • Saver-Investors: No matter their day job and income, these people become rich by obsessing over saving, investing and growing their wealth. 
  • Company Climbers: These hard workers devote themselves to climbing the corporate ladder toward a high-salary executive position at a corporation. 
  • Virtuosos: These top-of-their-field professionals are the best at what they do in high-paying fields like medicine and engineering, and they parlay their experience and knowledge into wealth. 

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Royalties and Selling Rights

When Forbes analyzed President Trump’s net worth, it found that a huge portion of his income comes from selling rights, branding and royalties — the right to slap the Trump name on a building or a bottle.

Actors and entertainers of all stripes earn royalties when their shows go into syndication or when their music is used in movies or advertisements. 

Millionaires — even those who aren’t nearly as wealthy or visible as Hollywood icons, rock stars and Donald Trump — are likely to own the rights to patents, products or similar intellectual property that other people are willing to pay for the right to use. 

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