Residual income is different from a salary, or linear income, which is paid out strictly based on the number of hours a person works. Someone who works on a salary is often said to work “paycheck to paycheck.” This is because he pays all of his bills with his first paycheck and then must wait until he gets paid again to have more money. Ideally, someone will work hard building up a business so that he can enjoy the residual income once his goals have been met. Then he can work on additional projects while still earning money from his business.

Residual income is the amount of net income generated in excess of the minimum rate of return. Residual income concepts have been used in a number of contexts, including as a measurement of internal corporate performance whereby a company's management team evaluates the return generated relative to the company's minimum required return. Alternatively, in personal finance, residual income is the level of income that an individual has after the deduction of all personal debts and expenses have been paid.