H&R Block Inc., best known for its tax-preparation services, is expanding into banking.

The company, based in Kansas City, Mo., plans to announce at its annual meeting this week that it will begin offering bank accounts to customers to facilitate direct deposit of tax refunds.

"We think the things we are doing will solve a whole host of the problems our clients face," H&R Block chairman and chief executive Mark A. Ernst told the Associated Press.

H&R Block estimates 3 million of its clients don't have bank accounts, forcing them to pay high fees for check-cashing services and to make do without formal savings accounts.

Ernst said that the company hoped to open at least 1 million bank accounts in next year's tax season. He said the changes are possible in part because H&R Block obtained its own thrift charter and opened a savings bank in May.

That will make the new accounts eligible for coverage by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which insures traditional checking and savings accounts for up to $100,000.

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