What's a bank to do when it is under pressure from federal regulators to stop paying dividends because of financial problems but is unwilling to call attention to its troubles by killing the quarterly payout? MNC Financial Corp. has found a way to save face and save $24 million in dividends at the same time. And keep the regulators happy.

MNC is not dropping its fourth-quarter dividend, it is merely delaying the meeting at which its board of directors decides what to do about it. Until now MNC's board has made that decision a few days before the end of each quarter, before financial results for the period are known. Regulators have told the board -- in no uncertain terms -- that it would be more prudent to see the bottom line first.

As a result, a decision on a dividend that would ordinarily be paid around the last week of December will be delayed until early January. Though the delay will be only a few days, it means MNC shareholders will get only three dividends during 1990.

That's the good news for stockholders. The bad news is that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has told MNC's three struggling banks to stop paying dividends to the holding company. And the Federal Reserve has cautioned the holding company against paying out cash that might be needed by the banks.