What It Is:
Earned income is an IRS term for income that is obtained by participating in a business or trade. Earned income typically includes salaries and bonuses, wages, commissions and tips. Union strike benefits are also considered earned income, as are long-term disability benefits received prior to minimum retirement age.
How It Works/Example:
Let's assume John Doe works in the marketing department for Company XYZ. His salary is $75,000 per year, and this year he also received a $5,000 bonus. His earned income is $75,000 + $5,000 = $80,000.
Let's assume John Doe quits that job and becomes a server at ABC Restaurant. He makes $9 an hour plus tips. Last year, he earned $30,000 in hourly wages and $11,000 in tips. John's earned income is $30,000 + $11,000 = $41,000.
Why It Matters:
Earned income is different from unearned income, which generally includes interest, dividends and similar proceeds. Pensions, social security, unemployment benefits, alimony and child support are also not considered earned income.