Death and taxes might be inevitable -- but having your taxes prepared for you is apparently not. H&R Block ( HRB), the largest U.S. tax preparer, announced today that it prepared 3.1% fewer tax returns this year than it did in 2008, as recession-strapped consumers sought cheaper alternatives to tax preparers. The company prepared 21 million returns between Jan. 1 and April 15, down from 21.67 million in the same period last year. The company said the impact of the economic downturn was partially offset by a 21.5% increase, to 5.12 million, in the number of their returns prepared online and with software, both of which cost substantially less than a one-on-one consultation. Online returns grew 45.5%. Tax preparation fees increased 0.5 percent to $2.82 billion, an all-time high. The company plans to report fourth-quarter and full-year earnings on June 23.