updated 4/18/2005 12:39:40 PM ET 2005-04-18T16:39:40

H&R Block Inc., the nation's largest tax preparer, reported Monday that it helped fewer customers than last year during the first three months of the tax season.

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H&R Block provided results for Jan. 1 through March 31. The Kansas City-based company plans to release results for the entire tax season on May 6.

H&R Block said it saw a 0.5 percent decline in customers at its network of more than 11,000 retail offices and department store kiosks from Jan. 1 through March 31. Still, the company said revenues from those locations did better because of a trend toward more complicated tax returns, which increased the average fee per customer 6.9 percent to $146.69.

H&R Block saw those revenues increase 6.4 percent to $1.9 billion during the period.

The company's digital business — its online service and TaxCut software — reported 6.1 percent fewer customers than last year. Officials have said they won't release financial details of the digital business until this summer.

"These results are consistent with retail client growth at the low end of our expected range," Mark Ernst, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a written statement.

In January, H&R Block officials estimated retail customer growth for the tax season of up to 3 percent.

H&R Block said it is maintaining its earnings guidance for fiscal 2004 at the low end of between $3.50 and $4 per share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expect fiscal 2004 earnings on average of $3.51.

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