Tax preparation and related fees from H&R Block Inc.'s U.S. retail operations increased 6.4 percent to $1.9 billion through March 31, 2005, the tax prep giant reported.

The Kansas City, Mo.-based company, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, said that the average fee per client served in company-owned and franchised offices rose 6.9 percent to $146.69.

Block said that the number of clients served in the company's U.S. retail operations declined 0.5 percent through March 31, while digital tax solutions clients served declined 6.1 percent through the same period.

"These results are consistent with retail client growth at the low end of our expected range," said Mark A. Ernst, chairman and chief executive officer. "The continued increase in more complex tax returns is yielding a higher average fee per client."

The company said that it is maintaining its earnings guidance at the low end of the $3.50 to $4 per share range. Block will release its preliminary business results for the final two weeks of the U.S. tax season before the market opens on May 6.

Block has more than 12,000 locations serving taxpayers primarily in the United States, Canada and Australia.

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