H&R Block blamed the recession for a drop-off in tax filings so far this season.

The tax prep giant reported that the number of same-office tax returns prepared in retail operations fell 5.6 percent compared to the prior-year period, as of Feb. 15. Total tax returns prepared through Feb. 15 were down 6.3 percent.

In addition, Block reported that total retail returns prepared year-to-date fell 8.2 percent, while the net average retail fee per tax return increased 1.9 percent. Total digital returns prepared by H&R Block (consisting of H&R Block At Home online and desktop software products, excluding Free File Alliance returns) were down 1.8 percent. Block’s total online return growth of 3.1 percent was more than offset by a 7.6 percent decline in software-based returns. Total digital returns including the Free File Alliance fell 1.4 percent.

In light of the foregoing preliminary tax season results, the company acknowledged its previously announced guidance for fiscal 2010 will not be reached.

“We believe industry filings are down significantly due to the recession and sustained, high levels of unemployment," said Block president and CEO Russ Smyth in a statement. "The weak economic conditions have also contributed to a greater shift to do-it-yourself tax preparation methods among first-half clients. We still have millions of clients to serve in the second half of the tax season, which we are aggressively targeting.”

Block plans to report on its fiscal 2010 third-quarter financial results on March 8.

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