H&R Block is an American tax preparation company in North America, Australia, and India. The Kansas City-based company also offers payroll, and business consulting services.
Founded in 1955 by brothers Henry W. Bloch and Richard Bloch. H&R Block currently operates approximately 12,000 retail tax offices worldwide. They offer consumer tax software, formerly called TaxCut, as well as online tax preparation and electronic filing from their website.
During World War II, Henry W. Bloch was a young Army Air Forces navigator who wanted to start a family business with his brothers in Kansas City.
Home from the war in 1946, Henry saw a pamphlet suggesting a bright future for companies serving small businesses, and it fired his imagination. That year, Henry and his older brother, Leon, borrowed $5,000 and opened a small bookkeeping business on Main Street in downtown Kansas City. However, four months later, they had few clients and Leon decided to seek a law degree.
Henry wanted to keep trying with the fledgling business and placed a newspaper ad for help-wanted. He got an unexpected response—from his mother—who proposed that Henry hire his younger brother, Richard, for the job. Henry and Richard Bloch jointly ran their United Business Company, which focused on bookkeeping, but also did some income tax work for clients. The brothers found that doing taxes was time consuming and they decided to end that type of service. One of their clients, John White, an ad salesman for The Kansas City Star newspaper, had a different idea; he suggested the Blochs make tax preparation a separate business and developed an ad announcing $5 tax services. The Blochs were not convinced, but they agreed to run the ad in January 1955. The next day, the brothers had an office full of tax clients, and H&R Block was born.
In 1956, the Blochs decided to expand and picked New York City. The move was profitable, but neither brother wanted to move to New York, so they agreed to sell that regional operation to two local accountants. However, since the would-be buyers could not meet the asking price, the parties agreed the Bloch brothers would get $10,000, plus royalties from the tax operation, creating the first H&R Block franchise tax office. The Bloch brothers chose to spell the name "Block" with a K to ensure the name is not mispronounced "blotch." In the following years, H&R Block grew quickly and went public in 1962, then opened its first tax training school in 1965 to meet the demand for skilled tax professionals at its franchise offices.
A TV ad campaign begun in 1972 featured Henry Bloch and became the springboard for H&R Block becoming one of the most widely recognized brand names in the U.S. In 1980 H&R Block purchased the Compuserve online service.
By 1986, Block was handling more than 10 million tax returns each year and had opened offices in Canada and Australia. That year, Block worked with the Internal Revenue Service to introduce electronic filing. Since then, Block has moved further into the digital realm with tax software and online tax preparation.
The company began to expand in the 1990s into the financial services arena, offering mortgage loans, banking, and business services. H&R Block purchased Olde Discount Stockbrokers and operated as a full-service securities broker-dealer under the name H&R Block Financial Advisors. By 2007, the unit was managing $33 billion in assets, offering investment planning, advice and related financial products and services, and employed 900 financial advisors in the U.S. In 2008, H&R Block sold the unit to Ameriprise Financial for US$ 315 million.
RSM McGladrey Business Solutions was created in 1999 when H&R Block acquired the assets and business of McGladrey & Pullen, based in Bloomington, Minnesota. McGladrey had 100 offices in 25 states and offered accounting, consulting, tax services, and international business services to mid-sized companies. Its clients included business in the construction, health care and manufacturing industries. Through an alliance with McGladrey & Pullen and other accountancies, the Block subsidiary operated in 70 countries under the RSM International name. In 2011, H&R Block sold the unit to McGladrey & Pullen.
In May 2007, the company said its total U.S. clients served during the 2007 tax season reached a record 19.9 million, up 3.8 percent from the previous year period. H&R Block employs 90,000 tax preparers. The company reported that in 2007, its tax clients obtained US$30 billion in tax refunds, credits and other government benefits. The company said it filed US$10 billion worth of Earned Income Tax Credits for its low-income clients.
H&R Block competes for a share of the digital market with its online tax programs and software. Block's other digital offerings include H&R Block Best of Both, where clients enter their information and do their returns online and a Block tax professional reviews, edits, signs and e-files the return.
The H&R Block Bank was chartered in 2006 and offers low-cost services to its low- to moderate-income customers. Block has said that more than one-third of its clients do not have bank accounts, and must pay high check-cashing fees for their paychecks and tax refund checks. Bank customers can establish FDIC-insured accounts with their tax refund money and then access those funds with pre-paid "Emerald" MasterCards through a nationwide network of ATMs. The accounts also allow direct payroll deposits via ACH and clients can get traditional services, such as lines of credit and individual retirement accounts.
In September 2015, H&R Block sold H&R Block Bank to BofI Holding Inc and reached an agreement for BofI to serve as the bank for H&R Block-branded financial services products including the Emerald MasterCard, Refund Anticipation Checks, and Emerald Advance lines of credit.
In January 2016, H&R Block launched Block Advisors, a service that provides year-round consumer tax preparation. The company says they have opened 280 Block Advisor offices.
In August 2005, H&R Block announced that it had overstated its earnings for 2003 and 2004 by $91.1 million. The company stated that it had "insufficient resources" to identify and report complex transactions in its corporate tax accounting. On February 23, 2006, the company said in its quarterly results that it had miscalculated its own state income taxes for 2005 and 2004, and that it owed an additional $32 million in back taxes. That mistake, plus Block's lower-than-expected earnings for the quarter, caused its stock price to drop by 8.5 percent in one day. On April 30, 2008, the company's liability recorded for "uncertain tax positions" totaled $137.6 million (excluding related interest and penalties). According to H&R Block, "This liability represents an estimate of tax positions we have taken in our tax returns that may ultimately not be sustained upon examination by the tax authorities." Estimated gross interest and penalties relating to these potential assessments totaled an additional $47.5 million.
On Feb. 15, 2006, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer sued H&R Block, alleging the company's refund anticipation loan (RAL) business violated state and federal laws in its marketing and providing of high-cost RALs mainly to low-income clients. Block responded that it "believes the refund lending program is both fair and legal, and will vigorously defend against the complaint". On January 2, 2009, California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. reached a $4.85 million settlement with H&R Block, which prohibits the company from deceptively marketing high-cost refund anticipation loans as early "tax refunds". Consumers received up to $2.45 million in restitution if they purchased a "refund anticipation loan" or a "refund anticipation check" through H&R Block between January 1, 2001 and December 31, 2008. In addition, H&R Block agreed to pay $500,000 in penalties and $1.9 million in fees and costs. In 2011, H&R Block ceased offering RALs altogether, a move praised by consumer rights activists.
On March 16, 2006, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued H&R Block, accusing the company of deceptive marketing of its Express IRA retirement accounts. The lawsuit alleged the company assessed fees, including set-up fees, annual fees, and account closing fees that, for 85% of account holders, resulted in the account losing money. However, in July 2007, a New York state judge dismissed much of the lawsuit. Justice Karla Moskowitz of the State Supreme Court excused Block and five of its units from the lawsuit. She let stand the portion of the complaint concerning another unit, H&R Block Financial Advisers, but dismissed allegations of common law fraud. At the time of the ruling, Block said it believed the remaining assertions lacked merit and that it would appeal. On January 6, 2009, a New York state appeals court overruled trial justice Karla Moskowitz's July 2007 ruling and reinstated the lawsuit against H&R Block Inc that accused the company of fraudulently marketing Express IRA retirement accounts to hundreds of thousands of lower-income clients nationwide. The matter was settled in 2009.
In December 2005, H&R Block sent its customers free copies of its TaxCut software, and the mailing labels on the packages mistakenly included the recipients' Social Security numbers. Block said it sent the promotional mailing to former customers and people whose names were taken from purchased lists. The company said it is legally required to hold on to customers' tax information, including Social Security numbers, for three years. Block said no customer data has been lost or stolen as a result of the mistake, and that less than 3 percent of the mailings were involved.