KANSAS CITY — With about a month to go before the April 15 tax filing deadline, H&R Block Inc. says tax preparation numbers are down from a year ago.
But the Kansas City-based company said Monday that overall tax preparation revenue continued to remain above the year-ago levels, thanks to higher average fees and more complex returns.
Company shares fell 53 cents to $18.60 in morning trading Monday.
H&R Block, the nation's largest tax preparer, said it had prepared 15.2 million tax returns through March 15, or 3.2 percent fewer than at the same point in 2008.
Returns filed in H&R Block's retail offices were down 6.2 percent from 11.5 million to 10.8 million. The decline was offset somewhat as returns filed with the company's software or online products were up 5.1 percent from 4.1 million to 4.4 million.
The retail numbers for 2008 don't include 94,000 returns filed last year by people who typically didn't need to file a return but did so to qualify for an economic stimulus payment.
H&R Block said it believed the retail decline reflected economic pressures forcing more people, especially the low- and middle-income taxpayers who make up the bulk of the company's customer base, to do their own taxes to save money.
The company said it has generated $1.98 billion in revenue through March 15, or 1.1 percent ahead of last year, as average fees and tax return complexity have increased.
In announcing H&R Block's third-quarter earnings earlier this month, company executives said the final month of the tax season typically becomes a make-or-break situation and expressed some optimism that a large wave of customers was waiting until the last minute.
Chief Executive Russ Smyth said the company was increasing marketing during the final month and was targeting richer taxpayers whose tax returns are usually more complex and generate higher fees.
H&R Block plans to release tax preparation figures through the end of the tax season on April 24.