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The net operating income is the amount of money that has been made once all of the person’s expenses have been subtracted from it. For instance, in order for an author to determine his net operating income, he would have to deduct the costs involved in creating the book from the amount that he earned. Designing the book cover, editing the book, and publishing the book are all examples of these kinds of expenses.
It’s a (mostly) short term, higher risk, higher reward place to invest cash that has a low correlation with the stock market, but is far more passive than buying and managing properties, has more opportunity for diversification than private placements (minimums of 5-10K, rather than 100K), and most of the equity offerings (and all of the debt offerings) provide monthly or quarterly incomes. Unlike a REIT, you can choose exactly which projects you wish to invest in.
Many people talk about passive income and create the impression that you never have to do anything to keep that income going. The truth is that you will normally have to keep your eye on things if you want it to run smoothly. For example Richard Branson doesn’t run any of the 400+ companies he started but he goes over the numbers each day to make sure they’re performing well and calls the CEO if there are any problems.