Passive Loss – Definition

Cite this article as:"Passive Loss – Definition," in The Business Professor, updated September 27, 2019, last accessed October 20, 2020,


What is Passive Loss?

A passive loss refers to a financial loss within an investment in any business enterprise or trade in which the investor isn’t materially involved. Passive losses can arise from investments in business partnerships, rental properties, or other activities in which an investor isn’t a material participant. In a bid to be considered a non-material participant, it is important that the investor is not constantly and substantially involved or active in the business activity.

A Little More on What is Passive Loss

A limited partner or a rental property may claim a passive loss based on their proportional partnership share. It’s only against passive gains that passive losses can be written off. When losses (which can comprise a loss from selling property or the passive business) surpass the income from passive activities, then the remaining loss can be moved to the next tax year as long as some passive income exists to write it off against.

Passive Loss: IRS Definition

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a passive activity refers to any business or rental activity in which the tax payer is not a material participant. This rentals like equipment and rental real estate irrespective of the investor’s participation level. By comparison, a non-passive activity refers to a business in which a tax payer works regularly, continuously, and substantially. The IRS posits that passive income doesn’t include salary, wages, investment, or portfolio income like dividends. Passive losses might be claimed in IRS Form 8582: Passive Activity Loss Limitations.

On a tax return, income, as well as, losses are listed in two sections: passive and non-passive. Passive income and losses include businesses, as well as, rentals devoid of material participation by the taxpayer or investor. Limited partners are typically passive based on the limitation of the tests for material participation. Given limited partnerships’ nature, participants are likely to have passive income or losses from them.

Non-passive income, as well as, losses, by comparison include business activities in which the investor or taxpayer is an active, material participant. This might include 1099 commission income, salaries, investment income, or portfolio, or any other income certified as non-passive. Portfolio income may include dividends, stocks gains and losses, interest income, royalties, pensions, lottery winnings, and other property held for the purpose of investment.

Passive Loss Activities

Usually, passive losses (and income) can come from any of the following activities:

Equipment leasing

Rental real estate (though certain exceptions exist)

Sole proprietorship or farm where a taxpayer is not materially involved

Limited partnerships (though certain exceptions exist)

S-Corporations, Partnerships, and limited liability companies in which the taxpayer is not a material participant.

References for “Passive Loss…self…/passive-activity-losses-real-estate-tax-tips…/01-tax…/passive-activity-rules-01d-passive-income-losses.htm

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