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How does the TSP differ from getting your IRA or 401k from Vanguard?
As it pertains to this topic, it doesn't. In both cases, YOU pick what you invest in. Neither Vanguard nor TSP has any legal responsibility to ensure you are invested appropriately.

ERISA plans have to offer at least three types of diversified investment choices with different characteristics (e.g. cash, stocks, bonds) and give participants the ability to make changes at least quarterly. So they are required to at least give you the tools to be successful.

Many 401k sponsors, including Vanguard, go a step further and provide third party investment management as an option for employees who don't know what they're doing.
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