Although Congress has authorized tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks to help American families cope with rising college costs, millions of taxpayers are failing to cash in on this government assistance.

Investigators at the Government Accountability Office are blaming what they say are overly complex rules for claiming educational tax credits or deductions.

In a report to the Senate Finance Committee, the GAO said that many taxpayers struggling with tuition expenses for their children are not "making the most effective use of certain postsecondary tax preferences" and therefore, "fail to minimize their federal income tax liabilities."

One study cited by the GAO found that 27 percent of the families eligible for an educational tax preference failed to claim either a tuition deduction, or a tax credit.

The tax preferences cited in the report include the current $1,500 Hope tax credit, a separate $2,000 federal Lifetime Learning tax credit for tuition and course-related fees, and a new $4,000 tax deduction for tuition expenses created under the 2001 Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act.

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