U.S. consumer credit expanded in March at the fastest pace since late 2001, boosted by a rebound in credit-card use, and higher student and car loans, data from the Federal Reserve showed Monday.

Total consumer credit grew by $21.36 billion, or 10.2 percent, to $2.542 trillion in March, after an upwardly revised $9.3 billion expansion in February. This was significantly higher than the $8.5 billion increase economists had called for and brings the total expansion in consumer credit to $48.1 billion for the first quarter of 2012.

The main driver remained the non-revolving component, which includes student and car loans. It climbed by $16.2 billion following a revised $11.62-billion gain in February.

Revolving credit, which includes credit-card debt, increased in March by $5.18 billion to $803.63 billion, it's the first gain in three months.

We expect that student loan growth will continue to push the level of consumer credit outstanding higher, and we look for revolving credit to expand as banks become more willing to lend, Barclay's economist Cooper Howes wrote in a note to clients on Monday.

Stocks were mixed. The S&P 500 climbed back into positive territory in the last minutes of trading, gaining 0.59 points, to 1,369.69, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up 28.46 points, to 13,009.81.