- Associated Press - Thursday, August 21, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - In revamping its prices and plans this week, Sprint is joining Verizon and AT&T; in letting families share pools of data.

The new Sprint plans are available starting Friday and reward families that need a lot of data. But the company is also keeping an unlimited-data plan that’s beneficial for individuals - and competes with a similar T-Mobile offering.

Now that most Americans have cellphones, wireless companies have been trying to lure consumers with lower prices. And to increase revenue from existing customers, the carriers have been pushing services with higher data allotments.

To help guide you through the maze of options from the four national wireless carriers - Verizon, AT&T;, Sprint and T-Mobile - here’s a look at the best plans for individuals, couples and families of four.

First, a few things to keep in mind:

- The price you pay for mobile service should be only one factor. In my travels, I was more likely to get high-speed data service with AT&T; and Verizon, especially in rural areas. T-Mobile has improved in many cities. Sprint is still catching up. A plan with a large data allotment won’t mean much if you can’t use it. Also, if you travel a lot, only T-Mobile offers free data roaming outside the U.S.

- The prices I compare here are for voice, text and data services only and do not include the cost of the phone. Taxes and fees are also extra, as well as one-time charges to activate service.

- The best deals tend to require that you buy a phone at full price or bring your own phone. Buying a phone means paying $600 or more up front for a high-end phone or spreading that out in monthly installments. With Verizon, you must participate in its Edge installment plan to qualify. Rates for voice, text and data services go up if you buy a subsidized phone for about $200 with a two-year contract. For a high-end phone, you’re still typically better off accepting the subsidies and paying the higher service rates if you upgrade right at the two-year mark.

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INDIVIDUALS:

Verizon and Sprint have great prices for individuals, who typically need 2 gigabytes of data per month. Unsubsidized plans are available for $50 a month and include unlimited calls and texts.

With AT&T;, you pay $65. T-Mobile doesn’t have a 2 GB plan. It offers 1 GB for $50 and 3 GB for $60.

With Verizon, avoid its flagship More Everything plan if you’re an individual needing 2 gigabytes. Verizon offers single-line 2 GB plans through More, but for $80. Ask for the special plan for individuals, which is just called Single Line Plan.

But if you need something other than 2 GB or have tablets to add with Verizon, you’re stuck with More. And this special plan is billed as promotional, so Verizon might yank it anytime.

Verizon and Sprint are also the best for subsidized plans with 2 GB - $60 with Verizon and $65 with Sprint. AT&T;’s costs $80. T-Mobile no longer offers subsidized phones.

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