Endangered species lists are important tools in conservation. It is essential that these lists be prepared using categorization systems that objectively assess species extinction risk. To determine which threatened species categorization system is the most appropriate and the virtues and limitations of systems used on the American continent, we evaluated 25 categorization systems from 20 countries. These systems included examples of international lists, most national systems used on the American continent, and some systems independently proposed by academics. We based our assessment on 15 characteristics that categorization systems should have, in terms of categories, criteria, and other relevant issues, in order to evaluate species conservation status objectively. Of all evaluated systems, the current World Conservation Union system is the most suitable for assessing species extinction risk. Most categorization systems, but particularly national systems, have serious deficiencies and need to be improved substantially. We recommend governments use three types of lists: (1) threatened species lists constructed following a sound categorization system, (2) lists of species of conservation priority, and (3) lists that serve as normative tools (e.g., Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Additionally, the information used to categorize species should be explicit and available to the public. To make the most of threatened species lists in conservation, it is imperative that all countries use the same categorization system.