In 1980, eight banks and eleven savings and loans failed.

These institutions were federally insured so deposits covered by insurance were not lost. Each account is covered by $100,000 insurance in case of failure or fraud.

When you realize that there are thousands upon thousands of banks and savings and loans around the country, this handful of failures is statistically insignificant.

But, still, some people can remember the great bank panic in the early 1930s. At that time the country was moving into a deep depression and the bank loans couldn't be paid off.

By 1933, 9,100 banks had closed their doors and depositors were stuck with more than $1.3 billion in losses. My father, Robert Weaver, who lived in Cleveland at the time, remembered the awful feeling of anxiety when he read the major banks in town would not open their doors.

But what about today? The banks and savings institutions have been under the double whammy of recession and rising interest rates. Some have been hard pressed to make ends meet.

But it's a far cry from what went on back in the 1930s. First, we now have an intricate and well-working depositor protection system which includes deposit insurance, regular bank inspections and government agencies with the power to merge sick financial institutions with healthy ones.

The federally regulated banks are members of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) which takes over when there's trouble. More often than not, the ailing bank can be merged with a sound bank and no doors are closed. All deposits are safe.

But when the bank can't be merged with another, the FDIC pays off depositors up to $100,000 for each account (some individuals have multiple insured accounts).

The payoff usually comes within a few weeks so depositors are not out of cash to maintain households or small businesses.

Banks, of course, are not the only financial institutions that are covered. Savings and loans are covered by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC), which operates much in the manner of the banks' FDIC.

Federally regulated credit unions are covered by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). Some credit unions are not covered because they're locally regulated. Look for the NCUA emblem or ask about the depositors insurance program.

Most stock broker firms are covered by Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SPIC) up to $100,000 in cash for each account and up to $500,000-worth of stocks or bonds.

SPIC protects investors against broker failure, fraud and theft but not against the ups and downs of the securities markets.

Q. Our son is in medical school and received a $5,000 guaranteed student loan at the beginning of the term in July 1979. At that time, no cosigner was required. However, when he applied for his second-year loan of $5,000 last summer, the same bank required us as his parents to cosign for him. Is this the way the program is supposed to operate and will we be required to cosign future loans?

A. Individual banks that participate in the federally backed student loan program can require a cosigner any time they want. Some do. Some don't. If this bothers you, try shopping around for another bank. When you cosign, remember that you are responsible for paying up if your son is unable to do so. r

Q. I'm trying to get Social Security benefits based on my wife's earning. But I'm having a lot of trouble. I'm a retired railroad worker getting a railroad pension. They say that if I get Social Security benefits through my wife's work record, my railroad pension will be reduced dollar for dollar to equal the amount I receive. So I end up getting nothing. Can they do this?

A. They can, indeed reduce your pension benefits if you start getting Social Security checks. Because the railroad pension is government administered, the law says you can't get a "double dip" from federal funds. This wisdom comes from a 1974 "offset" ruling aimed at reducing one pension dollar for dollar for the amount you receive from another. There are some exemptions and exceptions so you'd be wise to get some help from your local Social Security office.