Pedestrians walk past signage in front of an H&R Block office in San Francisco.
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By Ian Salisbury
February 15, 2017

President Trump’s election has set off a stock market rally, with financial firms leading the way. One that might not be too happy, however, is tax preparer H&R Block.

The new president singled the company out on Wednesday, riffing on a line he sometimes used on the campaign trail. “We’re going to simplify the tax code,” President Trump told White House press Wednesday. “In fact, H&R Block probably won’t be too happy. That’s one business that won’t be too happy.”

It wasn’t the first time he singled out the tax-prep giant, and investors have apparently been listening. Over the past three months — while the broad S&P 500 index has gained 7.5% and financial stocks as a group have risen 10.5% — H&R Block’s stock has plunged nearly 13%.

Indeed, it’s not hard to see why the company might be nervous. Simplifying the tax code has been a Republican policy goal for years. And one consequence of a simpler tax code would be diminished demand for professional preparers like those at H&R Block.

Of course, tax reform is no sure thing. But both the tax plan Trump campaigned on and a separate one put forward recently by Republican House leaders would make filing easier for middle-income Americans by raising the standard deduction and eliminating complicated features like the alternative minimum tax.

Just how ambitious are their goals? Let’s take the House plan, which would raise the standard deduction to $12,000 from $6,350 for single filers and to $24,000 from $12,700 for joint filers, as well as eliminating many deductions. Under that option, 38 million of the 45 million Americans who currently itemize their deductions would no longer need to, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

In a tweet Wednesday, H&R Block acknowledged the need for tax reform. And indeed, the company has put a brave face on previous attacks. In a December conference call with investors, CEO Bill Cobb acknowledged the worries but pointed out the company stood to benefit from other likely aspects of Trump-backed tax reform, such as a cut in the corporate tax rate.

“Regardless of the outcome, people will still need help to sort through the changes and the impact on their taxes,” Cobb added. “Thus, I am absolutely certain of one thing, taxpayers will continue to need and want H&R Block’s help. The tax code was much simpler when this company began in 1955.”

Indeed, the tax code was just 1.4 million words in 1955, compared with more than 10 million today, according to the Tax Foundation. So it’s true that Americans may still need help. But probably not quite as much.

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