Tax preparers feeling effects of recession

The down economy is hurting yet another industry: tax preparers.

A number of independent tax services and accountants, as well as national firms such as H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, report that business is flat or down from last year.

The culprits? The growing popularity of tax software, fewer refund anticipation loans, an abundance of free help and high unemployment.

Christopher Barry is among the new breed of do-it-yourselfers. In past years, the 39-year-old physician assistant paid an accountant $500 or so to prepare the joint federal and state income tax returns for him and his wife, Ashley, a research scientist. But in January, he paid about $40 for TurboTax software.

"I really didn't get a lot of added value from having someone prepare my taxes," said Barry, who lives in Morrisville. "They prepared my taxes and really didn't make a whole lot of recommendations in terms of ways to save money."

Many more Barrys are out there.

Industry leader H&R Block reported last week that the number of returns prepared by its retail outlets was down 9.4 percent through Feb. 28, in part because of the shift to do-it-yourself returns. CEO Russ Smyth also told analysts that heavy snowfalls and high unemployment also hurt.

On Thursday, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service estimated that its returns will decline 17 percent to 19 percent this season.

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