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First the good news: the role of professional tax preparers, particularly CPAs, looks secure in the tax preparation business for the foreseeable future and especially for those who have a good business tax operation. But the other shoe is still waiting to drop on the retail chains that rely primarily on 1040 traffic with the possibility that Jackson Hewitt Tax Services could enter Chapter 11 with plans for a pre-packaged bankruptcy. Whatever the outcome there, one of the issues that has put Jackson Hewitt in jeopardy remains. And that's the impact of the do-it-yourselfer on retail preparation. Of course, a lot of people still utilize the chains. But enough are shifting to web-based preparation to curb the possibility of growth of the retail businesses, not enough to kill all, but enough to squeeze out players.

I've made the comment before that the market may simply not have room for all the chains as the growth of D-I-Y shrinks retail demand. There's no reason to believe that this trend will do anything but accelerate this year. Add on the probable death of refund anticipation loans and a lot of chains, and independent preparers, lose another appeal they had.

This isn't good or bad news for full-service firms or the year-round tax-only preparers. Many of them weren't going to get this business anyway.

We will know the body count in the next few months as the public chains, H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, report their results as will Liberty Tax, which reports its results, something franchisors must do in a number of states. Mid-season results showed Block stopped losing market share, but it's certainly not poised for robust growth while Liberty was doing OK

But somewhere in the last two years, there was a signal that an era had ended and that's the era of rapid growth in store count.

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